Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Tuesday, 10 April 2007


  Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and saw how the multitude cast money into the treasury. Many who were rich cast in much. A poor widow came, and she cast in two small brass coins, which equal a quadrans coin. He called his disciples to himself, and said to them, "Most assuredly I tell you, this poor widow gave more than all those who are giving into the treasury, for they all gave out of their abundance, but she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on."

Mark 12:41-44 (WEB)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is reportedly the world's richest person, with a net worth in the neighborhood of $60 billion. If you remember, Microsoft started in a California garage as several young men struggled to build primitive computers. Now it's one of the world's premier corporations, with operations across the globe and influence in every aspect of society.

Bill Gates now supports a well-funded charitable foundation interested mainly in HIV/AIDS relief in Africa and science and math education in the U.S. He speaks often of his passions for relief and education, and has added to his voice many billions in these and other charitable efforts. Surely his advocacy and generous financial contributions make him one of the most effective philanthropists in history.

Society rightfully celebrates benefactors who give copiously to charity. But what of those "poor widow's mites" given sacrificially--in the deepest sense of the word--by those least able to afford their gifts? What about their level of giving?

Jonah Goldberg's recent column in the Minneapolis StarTribune reports Arthur Brooks, author of Who Really Cares? as saying that the group giving the biggest share of its income to charity is the working poor. Surprise! And here most of us thought it was the rich who did that, followed closely by the middle class. But no, it's the working poor who sacrifice the most for charity.

In a society that recognizes only bigness, dollars, and influence, charity given by the poor merits almost no consideration. But forget for a moment the excesses of society and think about what God sees when people share generously and even sacrificially from their meager share of the world's riches.

What God perhaps sees is first of all someone who believes and acts on what He has said concerning kindness and charity. Knowing God and in love and faith doing what He says is perhaps the highest calling of human beings. Remember the words of Jesus on this matter: "Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things I say?"

I'm certain that God also recognizes someone who has not elevated mammon to a position of lordship in their life. The more money and investments we have, the less we need to depend on God for a secure future. The poor widow had all her hopes on God, so therefore she could be generous in her poverty. Contrast her view with those of us who begrudge God every dollar because every bit given to Him means a bit less for us. That's why Scripture maintains so adamantly that excessive dependence on wealth is idolatrous because it draws us away from God.

But however much society may laud generous charitable contributions, it is not so rewarding to those who advocate against the systems causing poverty and oppression. And it is downright punitive to those who take physical action against oppression. In other words, society celebrates charity, generally ignores advocacy, and punishes overt action by labeling it "revolutionary," thus eliciting police or even military attention.

Give to charity and society will love you. Advocate against the systems of domination creating poverty and society will either ridicule or ignore you. Take to the streets against poverty and oppression, and society will often arrest and imprison you. The real message is: Don't mess with the systems that create prosperity for the few in society; be satisfied and happy that the upper classes return a small percentage of their wealth in the form of charity. And don't ask for more, because, after all, don't the poor create their own problems, and aren't they thus responsible for whatever befalls them?

But that isn't what the Bible says. God knows that most poverty arises from age-old systems of domination and oppression that the Scripture calls mammon of Babylon. Charity, wonderful as it is, will never solve the problems associated with poverty as long as these systems exist. God loves those who both advocate for justice and depend upon Him for ultimate sustenance and inspiration.

Perhaps it's like Gandhi said about protest: "At first they ignore you; then they ridicule you; then they fight you; and then you win!" That seems to be the experience of many who take the word of God seriously in their attempts to increase charity and to struggle against injustice and exploitation.