As Jesus arrives at the holy city of Jerusalem he weeps and laments over the city, its fate and how some Jewish religious leaders have led it astray. He laments over the coming fate of Jerusalem:
“As Jesus drew near, he saw Jerusalem and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides” (Luke 19:41-43)
Jesus also laments and bewails the heavy burden that some Jewish scribes place on peoples’ shoulders through their interpretation of the Torah. Some scribes even teach people that God wants all of their possessions, even their very homes: “Be on guard against the scribes, who…devour the houses of widows” (Luke 20:45-46). While most Jewish teachers are good, holy, and righteous some, like some Christian religious leaders, use religious language to make religion a joyless, impossible and even destructive burden.
This is the context in which to interpret today’s Gospel. Jesus observes people putting money into the Temple treasury and makes the following observation:
“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.” (Luke 21:4).
Jesus observes that not only has this widow given from her poverty but she has given her whole livelihood and has thrown her whole life away. She has nothing more to live on! While Jesus is not condemning this widow, He is lamenting religious teachings that would make a widow think that God would desire such a gift. God wants us to be generous but not to destroy our life.
So too today we should be on guard against Christian religious leaders, “who like to go around in long robes and love greetings in marketplaces, seats of honor… who devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.”