The Widow's Mites

Ordinary 32B

Mark 12: 41 44


In our series of meditations, the previous one dealt with the perennial question: What is the great Commandment? The answer from our Lord has left us with a perfect rule of life. If we may paraphrase it his message was something like:

1. Be listening always to this truth Israel:

God is One — the only One! All we have and enjoy comes from God on account of his total, undivided and indivisible love.

2. Therefore, you shall love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, i.e. with the whole of your being. You cannot keep any back!

3. You shall also love your neighbour in the same way you value, love and treasure your own being.

In our meditation we reflected on our Lord's manifestation of himself as the one who loves as God commands. In a couple of days he will renew his call as a "new commandment" — "Love one another as I have loved you."

Following this lesson Jesus went on to teach about showy religion and other matters. The text written by St. Mark shows our Lord taking up a particular position in the Temple precincts.

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 41

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.

We have a glimpse of Jesus placing himself where he can see (literally) how people cast money into the collection devices. There were plenty of unfortunate people in the vicinity who could be healed or at least helped; but for now Jesus is sitting, recovering from sessions of intensive teaching.

We note how St. Mark genuinely acknowledges the generosity of many rich people who threw in large amounts of money. We have reason to think that the people Jesus observed, were doing it to impress. There were many devout and Godly Jews in Israel in our Lord's day.

Verse 42

But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

We are told that the widow in this account is "poor", meaning not just of low estate, but having no secure income. In other words, she does not know when she will next be able to contribute to the care of the Temple. She comes and goes unnoticed except for our Lord's observation. She places two worthless coins into the Temple fund — so worthless that the Temple laws forbade anyone to put such coins in. She receives no acknowledgement for her presence nor for her gift; and certainly, no word of comfort.

The wealthy, of course, are noticed, and no doubt complimented on their generosity.

But we must remember that when Jesus talks about being rich, and how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, he is referring to those who make an absolute claim on their wealth no matter how much or how little they actually own!

  • Here, our Lord is not commenting on the wealthy. He is not even talking about the poor. He is completing his lesson on the Great Commandment which is to love God wholly and not partially; to keep nothing for self.

The widow's gift is judged not by the amount she gave, but by the amount she kept for herself!

  • Jesus makes it clear that what God wants is people and not their money! The gift God wants is all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

Jesus could have said to the woman, "You should keep these two coins. You need them more than the Temple management. Anyway, the rich have given enough to keep the Temple. Your two mites would buy half a corn cob; go and give yourself a meal. It could be your last for quite a while."

But Jesus doesn't make any such suggestion to her. Rather he allows her to come and go, and return to her poverty; but not without comment!

Verses 43 and 44

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.

They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everythingall she had to live on."

As the woman turns to leave, Jesus calls his disciples over to him

for formal rabbinic instruction. His opening words are normal when he wants to reinforce the moment with due solemnity. He makes three strong, clear statements:

1. "This poor widow has put more into the Temple treasury than all the others added together!"

2. "The others gave from what they did not need."
(Note: Jesus does not denigrate their gifts.
He simply points out that she gave more.)

3. "She, in dire need, gave what she needed. And she needed all she gave."
(She could reasonably have kept at least one of the coins for herself, but in a spirit of total love for God, gave, literally, "her whole life!")

At this point Jesus ends his short lesson and walks out of the Temple. There is nothing more to add.

Conclusion: Some Reflections

  • Some teaching on this incident leaves us with an endless guilt trip that we can never be a disciple of Jesus unless we also deposit every bit of cash we own into the work of the Church. We need to be wary of this pressure from some quarters.
  • Jesus throughout his life loved in this way. His disciples are to love likewise.
  • In this poor widow, Jesus sees a reflection of himself. In two days he is to "give his whole life". The woman is a figure of the One (Mark 10: 45) who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The challenge for us is to apply ourselves to reflect this love of the Lord.

Further reading: Barnes On Mark 12: 41 44

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