Editor’s note: Bread Blog is running a year-long series exploring passages from The Poverty & Justice Bible published by the American Bible Society (Contemporary English Version). The intent is a theological exploration at the intersection of social justice and religion. The blog posts will be written by members of the church relations staff at Bread for the World.
By Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith
“Jesus looked up and saw some rich people tossing their gifts into the offering box. He also saw a poor widow putting in two pennies. And he said, ‘I tell you that this poor woman has put in more than all the others. Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had.’” (Luke 21:1-4)
A few months after the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, whose epicenter was in Cairo, I found myself in that city. I had been invited to visit Coptic Orthodox and Evangelical churches, the Bible Society of Egypt, and youth who had been involved in the revolution. Tensions were still high, but the churches continued to provide spiritual and material support to people in need as they have been doing since the earliest days of Christendom. The churches carried out this ministry despite complications from increased tensions between Christians and Muslims, who had been living together in the region for hundreds of years.
During my visit, my host invited me to share a message with a special church he was supporting in a very poor area of Cairo. The church’s location wasn’t readily apparent. It was in a hidden upper room in a very modest, small building on a fairly desolate and isolated street. The congregants met in the evening. They were primarily older and younger women in modest, traditional Egyptian dress and women from other parts of northern and sub-Saharan Africa. Their children, youth, and a few older men were also present. Most of the women wore black or another dark or neutral color. As is the case in similar cultures, my host confirmed that the dress indicated most of the women were widows.
Although the Bible consistently refers to care for widows, the passage from Luke 21 is one of the few sections that makes an important departure from that to the empowerment and dignity of widows. In this passage, Jesus describes how the widow gave and did not receive from the rich, who have given what they did not need. The rich witness the widow’s empowerment from Jesus, who lifts her dignity to one who is blessed because she gave and did so in a true sacrificial way.
The same was true of the widows I saw in Egypt. The women brought oils, food, coins, embraces, and tears for their offering. While many of the husbands or other men in their lives were somehow lost or dead as a consequence of political strife, hunger, war, and poverty, these women still sacrificially gave what they had. Despite their weariness from travel, health ailments from childbirth, and other pains that were prayed over, touched, and anointed, the women made offerings out of their limited means to the church community and others outside the church.
Today, among even refugees and internally displaced people in the U.S. and around the world are many widows and others who give despite their lack of money and other material goods. Bread is a partner with these communities as it advocates for public policies to end hunger and address poverty. May we, like the widow in the Bible and the women in Egypt, always find ways to give of ourselves sacrificially so that all may be fed.
Rev. Dr. Angelique Walker-Smith is Bread for the World’s national senior associate for African-American and African church engagement.