Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 21:1-4

The Widow’s Offering

1 Jesus[a] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.[b] And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”


As Luke 21 begins, the events of Wednesday of Passover week continue, just days before the Crucifixion. As we saw last week in the final verses of Luke 20, Jesus severely condemned the scribes — the religious lawyers who were also Pharisees.

Therefore, as Luke 21 begins, the reader might experience some cognitive dissonance with the story of the widow’s offering. For centuries this has been one of the passages churches often use when asking for money. Matthew Henry, who died early in the 18th century, typifies this interpretation (emphases in bold mine):

here was one that was herself poor and yet gave what little she had to the treasury. It was but two mites, which make a farthing but Christ magnified it as a piece of charity exceeding all the rest: She has cast in more than they all. Christ does not blame her for indiscretion, in giving what she wanted herself, nor for vanity in giving among the rich to the treasury but commended her liberality, and her willingness to part with what little she had for the glory of God, which proceeded from a belief of and dependence upon God’s providence to take care of her. Jehovah-jireh–the Lord will provide.

Yet, in the context of Luke 20 and Luke 21, she gave to a corrupt religious system which Jesus loathed. At the end of Luke 20, Jesus criticised the scribes (Luke 20:47):

[“] who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Our Lord is watching the rich giving their monetary offerings to the temple treasury (verse 1). John MacArthur describes the setting for us:

What is the treasury? Well, the court in which Jesus was sitting is a very, very large open court in the temple area. It was called the Court of the Women. There was an inner court where only the men could go but this is the court where everyone could go, men and women. Jesus taught here as indicated in John chapter 8, in fact, He taught on the light of the world on that occasion. And He taught in the Court of the Women, the great open court because it was where everyone could come. He calls it the treasury because there was a section of it that the leaders had designed as the place you give your money. They had set up 13 shofar-trumpet shape[s]. You know what a shofar is, it’s a horn. They had set up 13 of those in which people dropped their money. And each of them had a sign on the bottom of it indicating exactly what that money was to be used for. Old shekel dues, new shekel dues, bird offerings, wood, incense, gold, free will, they all were labeled and people would go by and they would in very open courtyard, publicly put their giving on display. The treasury is actually the word gazophulakion from two Greek words, gaza meaning treasury, phulake meaning prison. Once you dropped them in, they were held in there.

Jesus saw the poor widow put two lepta in the offering box (verse 2). The Bible Gateway footnote explains:

a lepton was a Jewish bronze or copper coin worth about 1/128 of a denarius (which was a day’s wage for a laborer).

He says that, although her offering might be small in monetary terms, it was more than that of all the others were contributing because it was all she had (verses 3, 4).

MacArthur explains that Jesus was pointing out the venality of the Jewish hierarchy:

They build their success monetarily on the backs of widows … Our Lord indicts them for their severe abuse of widows, along with the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the scribes had a system that abused the poor and the defenseless for whom they had only disdain. They viewed any poor widow as being under the judgment of God, that’s why she was a poor widow. And they would aid God in making life tough for them to punish them for whatever sins God was punishing them for. Furthermore, widows were women and women were second-class, and Pharisees every day prayed, “Lord, make me not a Gentile or a woman.” And because they were widows, they were defenseless and easy prey.

Bearing this in mind, the common interpretation — ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ — would seem to be incorrect.

MacArthur says that we have been reading too much into these verses over the centuries because:

nothing is said about her attitude, nothing is said about her spirit, nothing said about whether she did it in desperation or devotion, whether she did it in legalism or love, it doesn’t say anything about that. The Lord doesn’t commend her, doesn’t make her an example, doesn’t validate what she did, doesn’t say it was a worthy spiritual act that greatly pleased Him.

He adds:

She gave up all her life…this religious system cost that widow her life. She’s going to go home and die. Do you get the picture? Jesus isn’t commending her, she’s a victim. He’s not proud of her. He’s not making her an example of sacrificial giving. This is an absurdity. He is observing the corruption of the system that is going to be destroyed under the leadership of these corrupt condemned leaders.

The next thing Jesus did was to state that the temple — and this corrupt religious system — would be destroyed, which happened in 70 AD. (Luke 21:5-6):

5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

He also foretold the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20):

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.

Therefore, the story of the widow’s offering is not one churches should use when asking for money.

That said, so many denominations are imitating the Jewish establishment of our Lord’s day that, perhaps, it is not so misplaced.

MacArthur emphasises:

This is not an illustration of heartfelt, sacrificial giving that pleases the Lord, this is not a model for all of us to follow. Jesus never expects that, in fact He told a servant who had very little, “You should have put your money in the bank and earned interest because you need that to meet your own physical needs.”

The message for us is to give what we can to a godly church without depriving ourselves of living within our means. A corrupt, unbiblical church, however, is no different to the ancient Jewish system and does not deserve our money.

Next time: Luke 21:14-19