Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
This scripture, found in the the 12th chapter of Mark’s gospel, is often used as an example of what God requires of us – not 10% or 50% but all of what we have. In comparison, the more well off religious people, although giving great quantities of money to the temple, are still left quite wealthy. Since they are rich they could give even more, but they do not, choosing to give the minimum requirement. This has been used as an indictment of those people who use legal loopholes to avoid total commitment to God.
Yet right before this happens Jesus says something about the teachers of the law, a law that compelled the faithful to sacrifice at the temple:
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”
Is it merely coincidence that Jesus comments on the tithe of a poor widow, just after he specifically condemns the teachers of the law for taking advantage of widows? What does it mean when he says that they ‘devour widows’ houses’? These teachers (also referred to as scribes) were the literate class working for the wealthy and in that capacity they would draw up and administer loan agreements. They would also be the ones who foreclosed on those who could not repay these loans.
The teachers also were the ones that taught the necessity of the temple tax, part of which was paid as tribute to the Romans. The widow was obligated, according to the current interpretation of the law, to give half of what she had in her possession at that time, which would have been one penny. The significance of a system that required a poor widow to give half of what she owned while the wealthy class who administered the law were exempt from such hardship could not have been lost on Jesus. The obligatory tithe had long lost any scriptural validity as it was used to fund the Roman tribute as well as the lifestyles of their Vichy-like collaborators, the Herodians, religious leaders and scribes. It seems obvious, that although holding up the virtues of this poor widow, he was also condemning a corrupt domination system that was built on the backs of people like her.
Question; isn’t this still a problem that we have in the church today, where millions of ‘peasants’ support the opulent lifestyles of the Vatican in their Roman palaces? Isn’t this also the case with the many televangelists who live in luxury financed by the donations of their followers, many of them poor? I really don’t see how church leaders like Pat Robertson, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Paul and Jan Crouch, Creflow Dollar, TD Jakes, Benny Hinn and Joseph Ratzinger are much different than the likes of Caiaphas or Herod (although to be fair, not all of them have the law on their side). These are just a few of the more obvious examples of a religious class who enjoy tremendous material benefits, earned at the expense of those who they supposedly are serving. But when it comes to soliciting money, even the Church as a whole, not to mention the thousands of small congregations, often resorts to a form of Biblical persuasion that is not unlike a Mafia protection racket.