God on Monday
'Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 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' (Lk 21.1-4).
What on earth am I here for? Welcome to the twentieth God on Monday reflection on ‘purpose’!
People generally care about where their money goes. In the global headlines this week are two big issues about where our money goes that are as moral as they are financial. The first is the decision of the G7 countries to force big tech companies – of which most of us are customers - to pay their fair share of tax. The second is the decision that the UK should reduce the contribution to international aid it makes from UK taxes from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income.
Jesus taught a lot about money. But the example cited above, often referred to as ‘The Widow’s Mite’, can be interpreted in more than one way. The traditional interpretation contrasts the behaviour of the wealthy with that of the poor widow. Accordingly, the point Jesus is making is that God loves generous, sacrificial giving. Words from the Apostle Paul are often cited in support: ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9.7). In other words, the widow’s action was one of radical self-abandonment to the service of God. Like Jesus, who gave his life, this woman gave all she had.
An alternative interpretation points out that no indication is given of the widow's mindset. It emphasises the context of the passage, in which Jesus warns against the religious leaders, whose misdeeds include stealing from widows (Lk 20.47). Jesus’ audience would have been appalled by such hypocrisy, as the very Jewish law taught by the scribes and Pharisees maintained that widows were to be treated with compassion, having lost with their husbands' death their main means of income (Ex 22.21-24). One way the religious leaders were stealing from widows was obliging them to make pious donations beyond their means, leaving them destitute. According to this alternative interpretation, Jesus is not commending the widow but condemning the religious leaders, who were coercing and exploiting her.
Whichever of these interpretations we prefer, they are both true in the things they assert about human purpose: that we are to be sacrificial, generous and contented givers; and that we are to protect the vulnerable. Both purposes remind us that God also cares about what happens to our money, for it is actually God’s money. That is why the evasion of paying taxes and of assisting the poor is a moral as well as financial issue. We are being called to account.
Peter S Heslam, Director of Faith in Business
Taxation and aid are also political issues. In the UK, however, they find a good deal of cross-party support. The focus of this reflection is on their moral dimension.