Widow’s Mites: Exemplary Faithfulness

The story of this faithful woman is found in both Mark 12:38-44 and Luke 21:1-4. There seems to be a connection between this incident and widows who were often robbed by the scribes (Mark 12:38). Their pride is epitomized by how they give, how they dress, and how they promote themselves when they are in public. Jesus points out they loved the best seats in the synagogue (v. 38). Indeed, there were seats near the front of the synagogue reserved for people of distinction, but the scribes claimed these places of honor for themselves. Many men today crave recognition for their professional degrees, rank, titles, and positions of power. Christ openly denounces those who seek honor from men, rather than God (John 5:44).

In an attempt to display their alleged spirituality, they pray long public prayers (v. 40).  Money brought into the temple was supposed to be used for temple maintenance and the purchase of incense. Their ministry among the people served only as an opportunity to rip people off. In their hypocrisy, scribes prayed for people and then stole from them. Men who should have been the most sensitive to the poor and needy were among the least sensitive. Jesus refers to men who have “consumed the homes of widows” (v. 40). This poor woman may have been a victim of scribes who urged women to give their estates to the synagogue and then skimmed the profits. This is reminiscent of certain tele-evangelists who con poor souls out of their possessions and buy expensive homes and cars for themselves. Since the scribes often made out wills for individuals, widows were easy prey. No wonder nearly half of Jesus’ parables deal with proper attitudes regarding finances.

Perhaps wearied from a journey, Jesus was sitting (v. 41). He was watching both the poor and the rich as they deposited money into the receptacles (Luke 21:1-2).  However, He seems refreshed to see this faithful lady. There is no indication that she saw Jesus or recognized Him. The Greek term for “poor widow” (v. 42) indicates she was poverty stricken. In any case, she was down to her last two mites. The way she was dressed was indicative of her financial situation. Note that Jesus “beheld” how people gave. The Greek tense indicates He carefully observed her behavior. His was not a passing glance. Jesus knows who gives, how much, and why. The Lord is more concerned with motives than amounts.

The temple treasury was located in the court of the women, encompassing an area of about 200 square feet. In that court were thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles. Nine of these received the offerings required by Jewish law and the other four were for voluntary donations. In contrast, the rich cast in handfuls of coins (v. 41). In the quiet atmosphere of the temple treasury, the heavy and plenteous coins of the rich rang loudly. Jewish traditional law declared that no one could cast in less than two mites. The word mite comes from the word “thin” or “fine”, referring to a slim copper coin. A mite (perutah) was the smallest of all coins minted in Greece or Rome. Two mites equaled a quadran, which was about 1/96th of a danarius. A danarius is about equal to a U.S. quarter. Two mites amounted to less than a U.S. copper penny.

What the widow gave was more than her tithe, for she gave everything (v.44). This story verifies that poverty is no excuse for withholding money from God. The rich young ruler walked away from Jesus when He told him to give all his money to the poor. What Jesus demanded of him He demands of us all: parting with our idols. When Mary spent her precious ointment to anoint Jesus, she was criticized by Judas (John 12:4-5). But Jesus appreciated her ministry to Him and said she would be immortalized because of it (John 14:9). He made this poor widow with her two mites famous as well. The Lord never spoke to this woman but He spoke about her. This nameless widow is praised for her godly attitude regarding finances.

True worship cannot be divorced from sacrificial giving. Abel set the standard in Genesis chapter four when he offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain (Heb. 11:4). Offerings serve as a touchstone for fellowship with God for they are representative of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice. God provided the supreme payment when He offered His Son for our sins. The object of redemption was to establish a connection between man as a physical being and God as a spiritual being. Jesus bridged the gap between God and man when the payment for sin was paid at Calvary. His perfect sacrifice was foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament by sacrificial animal offerings. What we give to God represents how we feel about Him. Our spontaneous expressions of gratitude bespeak our desire for enhanced communication with Him. Offerings of money represent the sacrifice of ourselves and our resources to God.

Love for God is shown by selflessness. Prudence demanded the widow should keep her last coins, but her love for God compelled her to give them. She made no provision for tomorrow because she was concerned with obeying God today. Although it might seem an unwise choice, it was wise in the eyes of Jesus. To her, God’s approval was all that mattered. Jesus’ assessment of this situation proves that God wants everything we have to be consecrated to His work. Jesus didn’t say He felt sorry for this woman, for He knew what her final reward would be. He used this situation as an object lesson for His disciples and all who have followed Him since that day (v. 43).

Real sacrifice costs something. Jesus clearly indicates that to give money you can spare is no sacrifice at all (v. 44). Comparatively speaking, this poor woman put in more than all the rest combined. Had she not thrown in her last two coins, no one would have blamed her, but no one would have remembered her either. Sacrifice is not measured by the amount given, but by comparing that amount with what you have left. This woman was left with nothing but the eternal blessing of Jesus Christ. There are no poor folks in heaven where she has lived for the past two thousand years.

God demands our money because we tend to be so attached to it. We must let Him control our money or our money will control us. Consider this. By most European standards, Americans are crazy. We spend money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. We drive financed cars over toll roads on credit card gas to open charge accounts at malls with inflated prices to fill second-mortgaged homes with financed furniture. This woman gave everything she had, yet how many Believers today will deny themselves even a cup of Starbucks?

Twice Jesus overturned the tables of the temple moneychangers: once at the beginning of His ministry and again toward the end of His ministry (John 2:13-16 & Matt. 21:12-13). It is interesting that the story of the widow’s mites is the last recorded incident in His life in connection with the temple. He never returned there after pointing out this woman’s sacrificial attitude. God’s house, intended to be a place of prayer, had become a den of thieves (Mark 11:17). The horrible failure of the superficial Jewish religious system is epitomized by their temple activities.After leaving this scene, Jesus drew the disciple’s attention to the temple architecture (Mark 13:2). He told them that not one stone would be left upon another. This was fulfilled when the enemies of the Jews burned the temple and then tore it apart looking for melted gold. When Pompey came and conquered Rome, he found thousands of pounds of silver and gold squirreled away by the priests in the temple vaults.

Jesus was the only one in the temple that day that seemed to notice her….but He is the only One that matters. Wise Christians know Jesus still watches how we give. But Jesus was not sitting there with a calculator; His math is different than ours. A person can receive more blessing by giving two mites than by giving two million. It’s our attitude in giving that gets Jesus’ attention, not how much. On the invisible scales Jesus held, this woman’s gift outweighed all the rest combined.

These lines were penned by a great saint many decades ago:

Sitting in the treasury,
Is Christ, who gave Himself for me.
He sees the dollars that I give;
Who gave Himself that I might live.

The One who owns the streets of gold
Sees the dollars I withhold;
He sees the things I clasp so tight;
I, who am a debtor in His sight.

Those who love the things of this world and sell their souls for its gold, will spend eternity where there is no gold. Believers who have not loved not this world and its gold will spend eternity in that city whose streets are paved with finest gold (Rev. 21:21).

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Paraphrase and then comment on each of the following verses regarding finances

1. Matthew 6:19-20

2. Luke 16:11

3. Proverbs 22:7

4. Acts 4:37

5. Philippians 4:11-13

6. Mark 8:36

7. First Timothy 6:8-10

8. Luke 9:3

9. Acts 8:20

10. Matthew 17:27

Maxim of the Moment

Love’s wounds can only be healed by the one who caused them.