COLUMN: A Bible story Donald Trump ‘mite’ not understand

Tulsa World News, March 30, 2017
- By Isaac Wright

What can the Biblical lesson of the widow’s mite teach us about President Trump’s new tax proposal?

A “mite” is a tiny copper coin from Biblical antiquity. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus watched as rich people gave large sums as offering in the temple. A woman in poverty came to offer only a few mites.

In Chapter 12, “Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.’”

Jesus is praising this woman’s abundant support for benevolent works – likely without even adequate nourishment for her or her children. But the full story is more than that. Jesus is also rebuking leaders of society who pervert the concept of stewardship and move the financial burden onto those with the fewer resources.

Directly preceding the widow’s gift, Jesus was teaching about inequities and the social, religious, and political imbalances of the day. Mark 12:38-40 reads, “As he taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.

“‘They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.’”

Jesus is not simply praising this widow in poverty who was sacrificing personally to give generously. Jesus was condemning leaders who had wealth, and who glorified their own position, but who failed the test of stewardship of the society’s resources.

There is a lesson here for President Donald Trump and members of Congress as they debate tax reform. Independent reviews of the Trump tax plan reveal that it would shift a greater burden of our national tax structure away from those with the greatest resources to pay it and instead put the burden on the shoulders of the middle class and those making less.

The wealthiest Americans would receive the biggest tax cuts both in raw dollars and in percentage. Those making over $1 million annually would see over $300,000 in tax cuts. Those earning over $1 million annually would receive 42 percent of the tax cut, but those Americans earning $40 to $50,000 annually would only receive 1.5 percent of the tax cut.

Our government allocates much of its tax expenditures on things like health care (Medicaid, Medicare and subsidies for those who can’t afford private health insurance), Social Security, and the social safety net programs for the poor.

Jesus directly addressed the importance of these categories.

“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” (Luke 3:11) “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor” (Matthew 19:21)

These are consistent themes throughout the Christian scriptures. “Thus says the Lord of hosts … do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor…” (Zechariah 7:9-10)

“I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11) “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13:16)

I remember a pastor in my childhood referring to the government’s social safety net as “the Church’s unpaid bills.”

Before President Trump and Congress move to tilt the nation’s tax code to help the wealthy, they should pay heed to Jesus’s lesson of the widow’s mite in its full context.

In our first year of marriage, for my birthday my wife bought me a widow’s mite – one of the actual 2,000-year-old coins from Roman times.

I keep the coin in the top drawer of my dresser, so I see it every Sunday morning as we get ready for church.

I think I will start carrying the mite with me to the ballot box.