on not giving to the temple

So I've finally emailed off my paper on postcolonialism. I read a lot for this essay but the one thing that sticks in my head is something I read back one dark December day sitting in Queen's library.

That same evening, I remember driving down Windmill Hill with Dad (hello Dad!) I was gabbling away as usual:
- "Do you ever have one of those moments when you see things completely differently?" I asked, and before he could reply, I carried on, "Today I read this book by this man whose working in Birmingham and he was talkin 'bout the widow's mite. Do you remember the story?"
- "Yeph, yeph.. um.."
- "It's the one when the poor widow puts her money in the temple collection and Jesus sees her and comments how even though she has only given a tiny amount, it's worth more that what the rich people are giving coz it's all she had. Anyhow, the point is that I always thought, well, it's always said, that Jesus was saying how the gifts of the poor are worth more. Like if you give all you can, it's a good thing to do."

We get to the end of the traffic jam and turn into the main road. I pause for breath, briefly:
- "BUT that's not it. And I was like why didn't I see that before?! Because this person who I was reading today says that Jesus isn't saying the widow did a good thing giving her money to church. He was criticizing her. Or, well, he was sayin that she shouldn't put her money in the temple box. She should use it for herself. Because she needs it. But also, coz Jesus is saying, well he says in the part next to this story, that he is going to destroy the temple. And all the time he is challenging the religious authorities, so why would he encourage people to support them?"

Dad gets a word in. He thinks it's good if people without much money don't feel they have to give it to church. We get to where were going. Dad switches off the engine and gives a sigh of relief.
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ (Mark 12:41-44)

R. S. Sugirtharajah suggests Jesus is arguing that the widow has been duped or coerced into giving all she has to the Temple, which he goes on to say will soon be destroyed. Furthermore, in the verses immediately before the story of the widow's mite, Jesus specifically criticizes those who take money from widows (Sugirtharajah 1998a: 22-3).

Last night, my head still busy with my essay, I though about the widow's mite. I wondered for how long we should continue to support the institutional church with all its committees and creeds and 'this is how we have to do it' and 'my hands are tied' and 'Gene isn't invited.' It's 'let's be nice and not cause a fuss or get into trouble.' And it's mindnumbing dullness.

And that is not to say there is not also joy and true friendship, insight and courage, fresh flowers and cups of tea. That is not to say the church cannot be saved.

Sugirtharajah, R. S. (1998a) Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism. Contesting the Interpretations Maryknoll, NY: Orbis


Anonymous said…
Thanks for another thoughtful and challenging post. Makes sense to me sister :-)
bjr said…
I don't see how you are getting that interpretation, unless you are suggesting that the translations have twisted the meaning from the original text. I always interpreted it as a criticism of the wealthy, who were credited with being generous yet were actually contributing relatively little. Like the criticism of the Pharisees and their prayers.

Nowhere does it say that the widow gave EVERYTHING that she had, just that she was giving from funds she needed to live on. And since she just sort of slipped the money into the box without a lot of fanfare, I don't see how you can conclude that she was pressured into giving. If she had felt that she was OBLIGED to give, wouldn't she want to be seen as giving the money, so that she could be credited for doing so?
Rachel said…
Thanks for the comments. Of course, there are other valid interpretations of the text. But this one from Sugi helped me see the passage in a radically different way, and that's always valuable.

I wonder too if we can so sure of how people respond to cultural pressures. We all take on board cultural and social beliefs, even to the extent that we internalize them and act as our own cultural police.