The passage (Mark 12:41–44) about the poor widow who put “everything she had” in the temple treasury was among the lectionary readings a few weeks ago, and it’s a frequent text for stewardship sermons. The example of the widow’s generosity seems clear enough, and it’s part of the church’s standard repertoire about sacrificial giving.
But Fergus Kerr suggests that the story is about not generosity but exploitation.
The story of the widow of Zarephath and Elijah is bracketed by two other stories that are excluded from the lectionary and are therefore never heard by many people in our congregations. Both of them concern the deviant monarchy under which the widow and her child live.
Some years ago I visited a Roman Catholic parish in one of the poorest areas of Mexico City. Mass was being held outdoors, and I arrived as people were setting up plastic chairs and wooden benches in a circle around the brightly dressed altar. The Virgin of Guadalupe smiled her approval from a mural on the side of the church as a few stray dogs settled down to nap in the warm dust.
Have you got good religion? Enslaved Africans in the antebellum South asked this question when they created a spiritual that offers a poignant and penetrating perspective on the state of Western Christianity. The famous line from “Have You Got Good Religion?” is a critique of Americanized Christianity.
For most of canonical history, Mark's Gospel has been considered an ugly
duckling and its author a clumsy yokel. It can hardly be a coincidence
that this Gospel was recognized as a swan and its author newly
discovered as a literary genius after the development of sophisticated
cinematic technique prepared us to read it better.