I’m blogging about chapter 12 of my book today. This ranks among the commonest abused passage of ALL TIME.
This passage is the favorite passage when preachers want to preach about giving to the church or the poor being generous (thus guilt-tripping us all into giving since we’re soooooo rich). The popular interpretation goes something like this. Jesus compared the poor widow’s giving to that of the rich. Jesus commended her (so it seems) for her generosity because giving, after all, is about percentage. See? Have you not heard this before? If you’re looking for a good guilt trip for your stingy congregation, I’ve just constructed your Sunday sermon for you. The problem is, this is the WRONG interpretation. If you think this is the right interpretation, you need to think a lot harder. If you wish to use this as your giving sermon, don’t! Jesus could be saying the very opposite. I believe Jesus’ message is really this: don’t give to a temple that is about to fall. The poor widow did so generously and wastefully.
There are some presuppositions that lead to the erroneous traditional interpretation. First, some presuppose that Jesus’ comments were complimentary when, in fact, Jesus was merely making an observation about the percentage of her giving without saying, “Go and do likewise, my disciples.” Second, and this is a more insidious presupposition, some insist that one can isolate Luke 21.1-4 apart from what precedes and what follows. We must notice that the disciples didn’t respond by saying, “Lord, teach us to give more.” Instead, they pointed out the temple building to which Jesus also referred in the previous passages. If the disciples got a different response than what WE expect in our modern day interpretation, we should be quite alert to why they’re talking about the temple still.
What is the key to finding the answer? This is the lesson for my readers. You need to look at the context before and after in Luke in order to determine whether this is about giving. There is exactly NOTHING in the context before and after about giving. Everything surrounding the story, IN THE SAME OCCASION, talks about the temple! Why would Jesus all of a sudden teach about giving? Thereafter, the teaching continues about the temple destruction. This is why I insist that I’m correct to read this “giving” story in the light of the temple. We can’t isolate the story because Jesus had not finished teaching and the entire content of his teaching is about the temple.
If you insist on preaching about giving with this passage, knock yourself out. Just don’t say that your preaching is biblical.
As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!