I had always thought of the Widow’s Mite (Luke 21:1-4) as a lesson on giving but through a recent study I’ve come to believe it is actually a warning of the implications of false leadership, specifically self-righteous, legalistic religious systems and their false leaders. A good thing to know how to spot and avoid (Psalm 1) and a good thing to help us refine our beliefs on true leadership.
When taken in context this account is surrounded by diatribes of false teachers. (Luke 20:47, Luke 21:5-36) In addition to the lack of the subject matter of giving in the surrounding scripture, is the lack of any principle taught on giving in this passage. Jesus neither condemns the rich for their giving nor commends the widows for hers. In my estimation, Jesus never said He was pleased with the widows giving, nor did he even imply it.
On the contrary, we know that Jesus did not approve of the religious system that was receiving the gifts and from that we can even go as far as to assume he may not have been pleased with the fact that this widow was being separated from her last coin on account of it. All throughout scripture, God’s Word protects and provides for widows, it never leaves them destitute. (Exodus 22:22, Psalm 146:9, Proverbs 15:25, Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 10: 1-4, Jeremiah 49:11, James 1:27)
The word rich used here is ‘plousios’ and means those who have enough. The word poor used in verse two is ‘penichors’, meaning someone who is needy but not destitute. The second mention of the widow being poor in verse three after she is seen giving all she had, is a different word ‘ptochos’ meaning someone who has nothing and has been reduced to begging.
The lesson, in my estimation, is this: the widow’s involvement in this false religious system has cost her everything. The warning; false leaders and their systems prey on the weak and pry from them what little possessions they have. Why give this warning? Perhaps, this will help us identify these systems so we can avoid them and not be party to them.
Another identifying characteristic of these systems is in the preceding two verses. The leaders of these systems create them so that they can accumulate what they desire; influence, position, power, money, etc. at the expense of the weak. (Luke 20-46-47) They are systems designed to serve the leader.
Contrasting false from true: real leaders do two things.
- They serve those they lead and
- they lead by example.
(Mark 10: 42-45, Philippians 2:3, Matthew 17,12, 1Timothy 4:12, 1Peter 5:1-3, Hebrews 13:7)
Here is a lesson of the cost of false leadership, a warning to false leaders and an aid to help us discern true from false leaders. In a culture that has so much to say about leadership, God’s word helps us understand the truth and protects us. Praise God!
Study resource: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Luke 18-24
Painting by James Tissot (French, 1836-1902)