By James Cornwell

A Reading from Luke 20:41-21:4

41 Then he said to them, “How can they say that the Messiah is David’s son? 42 For David himself says in the book of Psalms,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
43   until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
44 David thus calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?”

45 In the hearing of all the people he said to the disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. 47 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

1 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”


Most look to the widow in today’s reading as an exemplar of Christian giving, but Jesus suggests that her offering of two mites goes even deeper than that.

First, notice how the widow’s action is bookended. Immediately prior to noting her giving, Jesus is, “in the hearing of all the people,” condemning the scribes, who get the best seats in the synagogues, special greetings in the market, and places of honor at feasts, and “devour widows’ houses.” Immediately following his praise of the widow, in response to his disciples’ praise of the majesty of the temple, Jesus foretells its destruction. The temple and the leaders of its economy, it would seem, face God’s wrath.

In light of this indictment, the widow’s actions may seem no longer exemplary, but rather foolish. She is merely acting out a role in a drama of oppression, and in light of that, she does not offer us an exemplar. Why not tell the widow to keep her two mites? Why not choose this moment to invert the tables of the money changers and chase out the simonists with a whip of cords?

To see her action as merely an extension of the social structures of which she is a part is, in a sense, to rob her of her witness. Instead, she stands as an instrument for spiritual renewal, her act one of hope. She likely knows how the world works; she sees that it is rotten with injustice and oppression; she knows how this will end. And yet, she gives.

In many ways, the contemporary Church is not unlike the temple in Jesus’ day. Should we be giving to an institution riven by scandal and hypocrisy — one that looks, at least in the West, headed toward a decline in which no stone will remain upon another? The testimony of the widow’s action gives us the answer.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, Tenn.
The Diocese of Chhattisgarh (Church of North India)