21 He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2 he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4 for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

See the general introduction to Luke.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See general introduction to Luke.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

This is a short passage, towards the end of the section of Jesus in Jerusalem (19:28-21:38). This text closely follows that of Mark 12:41-44.

Chapters 19-21 describe a time of tension and conflict for Jesus, sometimes called ‘the struggle for authority in Jerusalem’. After the triumphant arrival in 19:28-40, there are disagreements, questioning and conflict with the Pharisees, the chief priests, scribes, elders and leaders. Immediately before this text, Jesus denounces the scribes for, among other things, ‘devour(ing) widows’ houses’. This then provides a contrasting context for the widown who gives her small donation.

Jesus notices ‘the rich’ approaching ‘the treasury’  and giving a donation – the word used for this action is variously, ‘dropping’ (TEV), ‘putting’ (NRSV) or ‘throwing’ (John McKinnon).

The setting is clearly the Temple precinct. Ritmeyer (‘The Ritual of The Temple in the Time of Christ’ Carta, Jerusalem, 2002). describes thirteen ‘trumpet-shaped boxes’ for money offerings placed under the colonnade that encircled the Court of the Women (p. 16). A number of these ‘chests’ or containers were for specific offerings, eg bird offerings or incense, while six were for ‘freewill’ offerings. There may be an ironical allusion to the trumpet shape of the chests, with the notion of ‘trumpeting’ one’s donation.

Characters & Setting

This passage takes place in the Temple precinct. Please click here for more information on the Temple.

The Temple in Jerusalem

Chief priests, scribes

Leading up to this passage, Jesus had been involved in verbal disputes with the various groups of Jewish leaders. While the people had welcomed him, the Pharisees complained about the loud praise given to Jesus from his disciples, and after the ‘cleansing of the Temple’ (19:45) the ‘chief priests, scribes and leaders’ wanted to kill him. As he continued to teach the people in the Temple area, the chief priests, scribes and elders came to question his authority. They tried to trap him with a question about paying taxes, but were unable to respond to his answer.


The woman stands in contrast to the chief priests and scribes. As a widow, this woman has no husband, so her status was likely to be precarious, because she had no inheritance rights and could have been exposed to harsh treatment and exploitation (see Jesus’ complaint in the passage above this one).

The woman herself though is shown as righteous and faithful. Her donation in which she puts in ‘more than all of them … out of her poverty … all she had to live on’ contrasts with the large donation, given of the abundance of the wealthy.

God’s concern for the plight of widows is shown in the Law (eg Deuteronomy 14:29), the Prophets (eg Jeremiah 49:11) and the Writings (eg Ps 68:5 and 146:9). Many stories in the gospels show Jesus’ concern for the widow’s existence (Lk 7:11-17 – the widow of Nain). In the early church, widows were cared for and named as a group that needed to be included in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1-6).

The chapter finishes with Jesus denouncing the scribes, to the point of accusing them of ‘devouring widows’ houses’. Scribes would often have done the equivalent of legal work for the community, and perhaps had been unscrupulous in their dealings with widows – as a group without power or influence.


In the short passage, 21:1-4, Jesus notices people putting money into the treasury. He is struck by the huge difference in rich people putting in money donations compared to the poor widow.

A number of commentators (Mckinnon, and Karris in NJBC), note that while Jesus’ concern at first glance is the piety and generosity of the woman, at a deeper level it rebukes a system that encouraged her impoverishment by persuading her to put in ‘all she had to live on’.   

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/challenges

True discipleship

Is this the story of a person giving their all? To the institution that will soon be gone? Is the widow an example of someone who gives all she has, even though not much, to build the new ‘house of prayer’ and community of faith?  We cannot give what we do not have, or what we used to have, or what we wished we had. Whatever our situation at the moment, all that God asks of us now is that we offer what we have now – and through us God’s work can be done.  

Michael Fallon The Gospel of Luke Chevalier Press 2007 p. 304  https://mbfallon.com 

The widow can be seen as a model of faith, what it means to be totally dependent on God, through generosity and complete trust in God.

Liturgical Usage

This text from Luke is not used in the Lectionary, while the same text in Mark is used on the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time in Year B.