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A Hero Who Shouldn’t Have Been

This past Sunday, we engaged two short narratives in Luke (found in chapter 20, verses 45-47; and 21:1-4) – the first being a warning Jesus gave to his disciples about a group of scribes, and the second an observation he share as he noticed people giving their offering of money in the Temple.

The two narratives are set side by side by Luke, I believe, for a reason. Why would he do so? He may have had multiple purposes, but the common denominator that emerges for me is the widow. She is obviously the main character in the second section, but look again at the first – she is there as well. In issuing his warning regarding the scribes, Jesus notes that they “prey upon households of widows.” He doesn’t give any details of this accusation – he simply states it. The scribes could have been (and likely were) practicing any of a number of abusive practices upon these socially powerless individuals who, by the way (that’s BTW for you millennials), have a special place in God’s heart (see James 1:27). In this light, Jesus’ words here about the scribes are scathing indeed.

Now, consider the second passage again. What we often see as the primary point of this insightful story is – the widow gave all she had to give. And that may very well have been Luke’s primary point; it surely was one of the lessons Jesus was imparting to his disciples. But I have come to see another striking theme when I consider the two passages together: Jesus is painting his disciples (and Luke is including us in that group) a picture of injustice, and it is an ugly portrait. This is clear in the first passage; his remark that the scribes prey upon widows really needs no further explanation. But I suspect Jesus is also exposing injustice in the second section as he contrasts the rich and the widow.

Jesus notes the affluent are giving “out of their riches”, compared to the widow who “gave out of her poverty.” We often make the widow a hero of the story – and rightly so – but often we end our learning there, and perhaps we do so prematurely. What if Jesus wants to say more to us? Maybe he wants to speak to his disciples (again, that’s us) without having to say it directly (which is often the case if you are familiar with his tactics) – “this poor woman shouldn’t have had to give her last penny.” Perhaps he wants to tell us – the widow (and the orphan, and the neglected, the small, and the oppressed) needs to be cared for by the community – by those who have the means, large or small, to do so. Don’t neglect them.

Maybe God wants to say – don’t let this happen in your community. Don’t let those who are truly needy among you go without when you already have the resources to help them.
What do you think?

Jim Presnell

Jim is the lead pastor of Rock Hill Church and leads in vision, preaching, and training for the community as a whole.