41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
I was sharing this story with a friend of mine – a friend not particularly familiar with the biblical text. The exact setting or reason for the sharing the story escapes me. Perhaps she heard it referenced in a sermon or I had a momentary lapse of weakness and allowed my Bible nerd to slip out. Regardless, I shared the story. A few months go by and she lets know me she had a gift for me. She worried I would think it was corny. Later, she presented me a necklace with two widow’s mites. “Giddy” is about the closest word I could muster for how I felt about it.
These ancient coins were most likely minted by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judae. They weren’t called mites then. Most likely they were leptons – a cheap bronze coin quickly minted in mass. “Mite” came about centuries from an old Flemmish coin. Two mites (leptons) were worth the smallest Roman coin – a quadran. Imagine something akin to our penny.
The immediate passage before this, Jesus ripped into the scribes for their greed and pride. He specifically stated that through their manipulation and oppression, they “devour widows houses” (v. 40). Immediately after this teaching, Jesus sat down opposite of the temple treasury with His disciples and watched rich people donating large sums. In the midst of this crowd, the people coming again going, a poor widow approached. I’m not how she looked, how tattered her clothes were, or if she stank. Regardless, it was obvious she was poor…and a widow – widow probably without a male family member to care for her. She worked her way through the crowd, approached the treasury box, and slipped in two mites.
38 And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
This was an optional offering: not obligatory. This woman willingly gave from her poverty. The others gave out of their wealth. She probably went home to an empty fridge and with an empty belly. Would she be able to make rent? Replace her cloak? Buy bread at the market the next day? Did she beg in public and all she got were these two mites? What was she risking? Whatever the case, she apparently gave everything she had.
And the story ends there. There is no resolution. Jesus didn’t promise that she would magically make rent or that a loaf of bread would be waiting for her. Jesus didn’t walk up to her and encourage her. No one gave her even a small amount of money. We know nothing more about her. It just ends.
In context with what Jesus taught taught, it makes sense. The others gave for all the wrong reasons – for recognization, social status, obligation, or to feel good about themselves. She gave for no such reason. She gave for a cause, a belief in something, and more than just obligation or recognition.
I lost one of those mites I was given. I was helping with a home project and it had fallen off somewhere. We scoured the home office, searched under the desk, retraced my steps, and all to no avail. Every time the room was vacuumed, we were careful. We even searched the dust bin once in case we had vacuumed it up. Weeks came and went and it never appeared. Then a few days ago, in the middle of the floor, in front of the desk, there it was – just lying there.
It reminded me of another woman, probably also a widow, Jesus spoke of. The setting was somewhat similar. Jesus is speaking to Pharisees and scribes.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
They had the same self-righteous mentality as the scribes in Mark. Here, they “grumbled” about Jesus’ uncouth entourage. So, Jesus told three stories, each with a similar point. His second story is of a woman that lost just one coin. She tore apart her place looking for it. She was so ecstatic when she finds it she gathered her friends and neighbors to tell them the wonderful news. Curiously, she didn’t gather “family.” Was there no family to be called? Is this why she is handling the money and was so desperate to find this coin?
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of over one sinner who repents.”
I often don’t appreciate something until I don’t have it, including a coin or family. Even the smallest of things I have taken for granted and become desperate when I realize what I’ve just lost.This woman was so grateful for a simple coin and she fought for it. I wonder if I can fight for even the greater things of this world with such passion.
This same passion for even the most minimal of items is the passion God searches for me. He rejoices over the smallest of victories, when even a small item of my life is redeemed. And not just Him but all of Heaven. God’s entire Kingdom is set for me and not against me. And I too frequently forget this.