Jesus' comments about the Widow's Mite are often used by preachers to justify extreme giving to the church. However, the incident is usually misunderstood due to ignoring the context on either side of Jesus' comments. The chapter break comes in the wrong place, so we often miss the connection with Jesus' comments to the scribes at the end of Luke 20.

Jesus condemned the scribes for "devouring widow's houses" (Luke 20:47). He warned that they will "receive harsher judgment". This was a strong accusation to make without giving any evidence to justify it. Actually, the evidence is in Luke's account of the Widow's Mite at the beginning of the next chapter.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on (Luke 21:1-4).
Jesus then looked up and saw the widow putting in all she had to live on, and pointed her out as a victim of the scribe's teaching.

The widespread belief that Jesus was praising her is wrong. A careful reading reveals that Jesus did not commend her. He simply described what she had done, compared to other people. To understand what was going on, we need to ask some deeper questions. Is this what God wanted? Did he need the widow's coins that would have kept her from starving? Did she need to starve, so that God could have a physical house to dwell in?

When God wanted a tabernacle, he enabled the plunder of the Egyptians, so the people could give the wealth needed to build it. The people did not have to starve to provide a dwelling place for God, because he paid for it himself.

God did not want the widow's two coins. She needed them to live on, and God wanted her to have enough to eat. She gave them to the temple, because she was under moral pressure from the false teaching of the teachers of the law. They were teaching that donations to the temple were a requirement of the Law of Moses. That was not correct. The Law required that money should be given to widows by their families and their neighbours.

God would have been happier if some of the wealth being put into the temple treasury had been given to the support of the widows and the poor as the Law required. He was not that interested in funding another tourist attraction for the Roman Empire.

The discussion about giving did not end with Jesus' comment about the widow. It carried on in the next few verses. Some of the disciples responded to Jesus' concern about her unnecessary suffering by pointing out the beautiful buildings that had been built with people's gifts.

Some were talking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God (Luke 21:5).
This is what pastors frequently claim when urging sacrificial giving. Personal suffering is justified by the greater good that can be done when money is handed over to their religious cause. However, Jesus quickly killed that argument. He said,
As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down (Luke 21:6).
Jesus warned that the widow's coins were wasted because the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed within the next few years. He explained that her last income had been devoured by the scribes who pressured poor people to give money for Herod's temple project.

The widow got into poverty to pay for a temple that God no longer needed because Jesus had come to earth and he would send the Holy Spirit to live in his followers. Jesus paid the price for the temple of the Holy Spirit, so this widow did not need to.

This widow was an example of the religious leaders devouring widows' houses. They were not stealing directly from the widows, but putting impossible burdens on them, when the Torah required that families support their widows.

The widow was trying to please God, but because she had been given incorrect teaching about money, she was putting herself into unnecessary poverty. Pastors should be careful that they don't fall into the same trap by misreading what Jesus was saying and teaching people to give away money that God wants them to use to support their families. Talking about the beautiful things that could be done with poor people's money is a dangerous game.