Today’s Parable of the Widow’s Mite

It’s very unlikely that at the time Jesus told the parable of the widow’s charitable contribution at the Temple that he had the foggiest idea of what might be meant by the term “Bush Tax Cuts.”  Nevertheless, today’s article by Judith Warner in the New York Times Magazine, titled “Helping Hand? Why Giving the Rich a Break Doesn’t Necessarily do Anthing for the Poor?” reads like a twenty-first century telling of the same tale.

We read in Mark 12:41-44 of Jesus’s teaching about the generosity of the poorest, while the rich remained selfish and self-gratifying.

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.  Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury.  For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (NAB)

Some things never change.

What this New York Times Magazine article shows is that the people with the lowest means are more likely (often, significantly more likely, that is by percentage) to share their earnings and take care of others.  This happens more commonly through charitable giving.  But even the term “charitable giving” is misleading, especially given that gifts to one’s Alma Mater and cultural institutions (which are two of the largest recipients of those proportionately-small wealthy contributions) are “technically” considered charitable contributions (at least by the IRS).

The wealthier one is, (statistically) the less likely that person is to make a charitable gift that would in any way directly (or even indirectly) reach the poor.  Yet, the wealthier one is, the more likely that person is to have disposable income that could be best utilized in aiding those who – often due to no circumstances of their own – are less fortunate.  So-called trickle-down economics are bogus.  While it seems counter-intuitive (which should make us reconsider our popular  cultural myths and narratives), it is not the rich who can or will help others, but the poor.  If anyone deserves a tax cut, it’s those who have the least to give and yet continue to be more generous than the selfish wealthy.

If Jesus were sitting outside a Starbucks on Capitol Hill watching legislators scurrying about deliberating on whether to extend Bush Tax Cuts, what do you think he would say?

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One Response to “Today’s Parable of the Widow’s Mite”

  1. wiley barbour Says:

    Thank you – i had not read the article you mentioned but I will. I am sitting in a hotel room and after hearing Obama’s speach i tried to sleep but kept thinking about the cruel debate in Congress about cutting welfare for the poor. I literally had to climb back out of bed and search the internet to see if anyone else is making this connection. Bless you.

    I note that the only social programs of any sort in those days were not administered by gov’t but by the temple. In the versus before this lesson Jesus is angry with the Priests and the rich. The analogy to today’s tax rate debate is powerful. The way I read this Jesus is making a moral argument that its not enough that the rich pay more in absolute terms to the poor; Rather he is saying they should be paying a higher percentage which of course sounds like a progressive thing to say.

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