Today’s Gospel is traditionally called “The Widow’s Mite.” The mite, also known as a lepton, was a Jewish coin made of copper and the smallest currency described in the New Testament. In Jesus’ day, it was worth 1/64 of a denarius. A denarius was a day’s wage for a common worker. In today’s terms, it would be worth about 1/8 of a cent.
This short passage occurs falls in between these two passages:
“Be on guard against the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.” (Luke 20:46-47)
Then the verses comprising the “Widow’s Mite”, then
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” (Luke 21:5-6)
These verses often bring to mind the Beatitudes, the parable of the Rich Fool, the admonishment to trust God’s providence, and more. In the light of such recall, it is not hard to see why the scribes have just been condemned for going through the savings of people like the poor widow (20:47). These are the same people who earlier were condemned by the charge of rapaciousness and laying impossible burdens on people like the widow (11:39, 46). The conduct of the religious leaders forms a backdrop for the prediction of the destruction of the temple.
All that being said, this vignette offers another of Jesus’ words about the larger theme of wealth and stewardship, as He again draws the contrast between the temple contributions of the wealthy and a poor widow. As we enter into the holiday season, this week we celebrate Thanksgiving, followed by the days known as “Black Friday,” “Cyber Monday,” and “Giving Tuesday.” The first two are days about “costly stones and votive offerings” (hopefully at a substantial discount). The latter is a day, started in 2012 as a reaction against the commercial focus of the other days. In 2021, it was estimated that $2.7 billion was donated to charitable causes here in the United States.
Giving Tuesday is like that day long ago in the Temple, only today it is an online temple with digital offerings. There will be wealthy scribes giving princely sums to worthy causes. There will be widows giving what they can, their digital mites. It is a day which reminds us, generosity is perhaps not measured by the amount we give, but what one keeps.
Image credit: Brooklyn Museum: The Widow’s Mite (Le denier de la veuve) – James Tissot (Public Domain)