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Who gave more?

[Jesus] also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
- Luke 21:2-4

Who gave more: the wealthy or the poor?

The widow in today’s passage only put two copper coins into the temple treasury. Luke goes out of his way to show us how small the gift was, calling them “very small.”

We aren’t told how much the wealthy put into the treasury, but we can guess from the context that it was more than “two very small copper coins.” In fact, the widow’s gift may have been the minimum allowable contribution in the temple system (equal to about $2).

Why does Jesus say: “the poor widow has put in more than all the others?” Jesus is prompting his disciples to take a more nuanced view on generosity.

A person can give more (a higher percentage) while at the same time giving less (a smaller amount). And people who make more (a larger amount) may unwittingly be giving less (a smaller percentage).

Giving patterns tend to bear this out: the more money a person makes the smaller percentage of their income they tend to give away. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in Chatham County people making <$25k/yr give twice as much by percentage of income as people making $50k/yr (and three times as much as people making more than $100k).

This more nuanced perspective on giving should never be used to induce guilt or manipulate people into giving. Instead, it should do these two things:

We should respect the gifts of the poor. Though they may give less money, their giving is significant. The poor among us have a lot to teach us about generosity.

We should pay attention to our own giving to see if it is actually at the level we want it to be. As our incomes increase, we want our generosity to increase as well. Knowing that this isn’t always the case can motivate us to pay more careful attention to where our money is going.

What percentage of your income would you reasonably like to give away? What percentage of your income do you currently donate? Take some time to dialogue with the Lord about the current state of your charitable giving.

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