One of the things that Jesus wanted his followers to understand was that the interpretation of Hebrew scriptures was not a foolproof system. The scribes that were responsible for maintaining Jewish religious documents took advantage of their knowledge of God’s commandments by telling people they would benefit from their sacrificial giving. Jesus told his followers, “Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing and love salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feast: which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation” (Mark 12:38-40). “Since the scribes were not paid a regular salary, they were dependent on the generosity of patrons for their livelihood. Such a system was open to abuses and widows especially vulnerable to exploitation” (note on Mark 12:40). Jesus’ remark that the scribes would receive greater damnation suggested that the abuse of their position would cause the scribes to be judged by God more harshly than others.
The example Jesus used to show his disciples that giving was supposed to be proportionate to the giver’s financial ability was a comparison between a widow that gave to the temple treasury all the money she had to live on and the rich who were giving large amounts, but only a small proportion of their wealth. Jesus said, “Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: for all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:3-4). In spite of the poor widow’s generosity, Jesus didn’t commend her or suggest that her sacrifice would bring her any reward. Instead, he pointed out that the temple that the money was going to support would one day be brought to ruin (Luke 21:6). In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his followers to lay up treasure in heaven rather than on earth. He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).