Widows were among the most vulnerable people in Jesus’ place and time, though some had means (e.g., John Mark’s mother in Acts 12:12-13). When Jesus identifies the widow as “poor,” he uses the Greek word ptoche. This was word used for those whose poverty reduced them to begging. In the social structure of the time, a woman’s family relationships determined her social status, where she lived, how her household earned a living, and what assets she had to spend. Widows and orphans, deprived of vital family relationships, were especially vulnerable to losing the social and material support they needed to survive.
In light of this need, Jews and early Christians were known for placing a high priority on serving the poor. The spiritual practice of almsgiving, for instance, was based on the Jewish belief that God was incarnate among the poor, so much so that many Jewish writers said that giving to the poor was equal to bringing a sacrifice to the temple.
This message is excerpted from the Bible study “Be like the widow” by Emma Crossen in the July/August 2015 Gather magazine.
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