Crafting a Sermon on Luke 21:1-4 Intersectionally

child holding coins in hand (Crafting a sermon on Luke 21:1-4)
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Ed. note: Looking for a stewardship sermon to preach on the Widow’s Mite passage?  A sermon on Luke 21:1-4 can be a promising text, but it is fraught with themes of sacrificial giving that may not be life-giving in many contexts. This article by noted Caribbean biblical scholar Oral A.W. Thomas shows how to preach intersectionally, keeping both the biblical context and your congregational context in mind.

There is no sermon apart from the Scriptures. No matter how the sermon is structured, the preacher must account for the crisis and events that gave rise to biblical texts and those in which the Word is being disclosed today. Scriptures must be interpreted appropriately or else the sermon will be misinformed and ill-suited for its primary purpose—to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scriptures arise from particular contexts

Preachers, though, do not get to go to the original event of the Scriptures. No one was there with a camera to capture the moment when the waters of the Red Sea stood up like a wall on both sides and the Israelites escaped the Pharaoh’s oppressive Egypt (Exodus 14:29-30). Even so, when we ask historical questions, we get a glimpse of the God to whom the Scriptures witness. True, historical evidence does not prove the truth of the Scriptures. The reality may not necessarily relate to historical fact. It does not mean, however, that where there is no truth, there is no fact.

A sermon is crafted only after the preacher has interpreted the Scriptures, accounting for the social realities from which the Scriptures emerge. Ask these questions:

  • What are the historical events and developments taking place at the time of the text?
  • Who are the characters in the text?
  • What do they do and say, and do they represent large groups or identifiable types in the community?
  • What are their stories? and
  • What is the theology of their stories?

Scriptures are a record of God’s activity in the human affairs of Israel and the Early Church. Preachers need to examine the social circumstances of this witness to make faith claims about the God to whom the Scripture witnesses.

Crafting a sermon on Luke 21:1-4

For example, if one is composing a sermon on Luke 21:1-4 without considering the materialist aspects of the text, it could result in a focus on sacrificial giving. That is, our giving should not be determined by the value of money but by a disposition of the heart and a willingness to give sacrificially. The widow loses what she has, but she wins Jesus’ approval. The widow exemplifies what worshipful, sacrificial giving looks like.

Gerald West, a South African biblical scholar, calls this kind of reading textual critical consciousness in which little is known about the characters in the text, how they live, and whether they represent characters in society.1 The rich people and the widow are not named in the text, which means they could be representatives of classes within the society rather than individuals.

Here, the focus on sacrificial giving yields an interpretation that fails to engage the socioeconomic conditions that bear upon widowhood in that context. The text does not specify the widow’s ethnic origin. Yet her gender and class point to the need to focus on the power structures of dominance and subordination of the characters in the text. Widowhood is not a fixed identity. No woman is born a widow. In the text, gender, class, and economics intersect.2 No form of subordination and dominance stands by itself.

In this text, Jesus sees people who give gifts out of their abundance to support an economic system as well as a widow who gives copper coins out of her poverty to the same system. Jesus concludes that the poor widow contributes more than the rich people to the system. What informs Jesus’ conclusion? Jesus does not comment on the color and quality of their clothing; Jesus is naming wealth and poverty. There are rich people who have in abundance, more than they need. And there is a poor widow who was desperate, without the material support of her husband and family. Those with minimal material resources for life, eking out an existence, give more to the ecosystem than those with an overabundance of resources. Any ecosystem that takes proportionately more from the poor than the rich is exploitative.

Naming social realities in the text

An interpretation that centers on the realities of the life of the characters in the text will instead examine what caused this ecosystem to allow a widow to give more than the rich. This would shed light on the dominating and exploitative issues at work in the economics of widowhood.

Interpretations of (and sermons on) Luke 21 that conclude the text are about the “disposition of the heart” and what “sacrificial giving looks like” take the text as a theological product, which is problematic. Theology arises from contextual social realities. To understand the theological issues in the text, the interpreter needs to examine Luke’s purpose for telling this story and the circumstances from which the text emerged. God is not mentioned in the story, but it does not mean the story has no theological importance.

The Gospel of Luke was completed about fifty years after Jesus’ promise of return. Luke does not know the day or the hour when the Son of Man shall come again; but we know it is not a matter of if but when. The issue for Luke is how to live until the Son of Man returns, that is, how to live between the times. One answer for Luke is not to exploit the vulnerable among you. Exploitation is against the will and purpose of God for those whom God creates in love and redeems in suffering and will come again for their joyous well-being.

An interpretation that engages the power intersections in the text yields a different understanding than the disposition of the heart, and it exemplifies what worshipful, sacrificial giving looks like. An intersectionality reading of the text points out that exploitation is wrong and unjust in the sight of the living and coming God.

Going deeper in your sermon

As preachers, we must remember that we do not merely exegete words entangled in the power relations of the Scriptures. We read into human social worlds,3 reflecting social practices. The Scriptures are produced literature. They are a reading of social realities. Interpreters are charged with divining whose interests and voices are embedded in the Scriptures, and paying attention to the particulars of historical and social events and relations. The Scriptures are not disembodied, unrelated to the difficulties and uncertainties of real life.

How one interprets the Scriptures is fundamentally connected to how one lives and impacts others’ lives. Biblical interpretation has consequences.4

When preaching a sermon on Luke 21, or any biblical text, preachers can encourage their hearers to consider systemic and cultural factors not only in their reading of Scripture, but in their encounters with people out in the world. Bring them along with you as you ask questions of the text about power dynamics and social factors in every story.


  1. Gerald West, The Academy of the Poor – Towards a Dialogical Reading of the Bible (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 124 – 42.
  2. Gale A. Yee, “Thinking Intersectionally: Gender, Race, Class, and the Etcetera of Our Discipline,” in eds. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder and Mary F. Foskett, Remapping Biblical Studies: CUREMP at Thirty (SBL Press: Atlanta, 2023), 209.
  3. Jacqueline M. Hidalgo, “Reading Between the Words: Learning to Interpret Worlds alongside Runagate Scriptural Studies,” in eds. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder and Mary F. Foskett, Remapping Biblical Studies: CUREMP at Thirty (SBL Press: Atlanta, 2023), 61.
  4. Raj Nadella, “Remapping Biblical Studies: Shifts, Challenges and Opportunities,” in eds. Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder and Mary F. Foskett, Remapping Biblical Studies: CUREMP at Thirty, (SBL Press: Atlanta, 2023), 195.