Widow's Mite

March 04, 2011

Yesterday, theologian Miguel De La Torre--whose writings often challenge me--had an excellent Ethics Daily column about how we often misinterpret the story of the widow's mite. He argues that too often we misread the text because we "read the Bible from a position of power and privilege" and thus we run "the risk of romanticizing the plight of the poor, even to the point of making the condition of those oppressed models for the victims of racism, classism and sexism." In context, the story is not Jesus holding up the widow as an exemplar but rather Jesus pointing to the widow as part of his condemnation of leaders who were exploiting the poor. This is a similar argument that R. S. Sugirtharajah made in his book The Bible and the Third World. He argued:

If one sees it from the widow's angle, Jesus was not applauding her action but making an assault upon an institution which generated poverty in Israel. ... Postcolonial reading will not see the widow as being singled out by Jesus as a model for piety but as a poor widow who was manipulated and swindled by the system into parting with the little she had.
This reading of scripture is important because it challenges us more than the watered-down version that allows us to shirk our responsibility toward economic justice. Howe we read the Bible matters.

Reading the Bible through this lens should make us stop and think. After all, as Stephen Colbert humorously pointed out a couple of days ago, the income divide in our nation has dramatically grown. As our nation's leaders consider how to cut government spending and bring our obscene national debt under control, let us be careful not to do so in a manner that harms those already living in poverty. Bread for the World has complied a list of the proposed cuts to poverty-fighting programs. The proposed cuts--which barely make a dent in our national debt because these programs are not where most of our spending is--are critical for the poor. The cuts have drawn criticism from many Christian leaders. Some started a campaign asking "What Would Jesus Cut?" Among the supporters of this initiative are: Bread for the World President David Beckmann, author Tony Campolo, megachurch pastor Joel Hunter, National Council of Churches General Secretary Michael Kinnamon, author Brian McLaren, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez, author Ron Sider, and author Jim Wallis. Although our national debt is--as Speaker of the House John Boehner said--"immoral," we must be careful that our cuts are not also immoral.

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