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A destitute widow contributed more in the eyes of God than all her wealthy neighbors put together! She gave all she had. The others just offered what they could part with.
Jesus said, "Beware of the scribes, who go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues, who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers."
Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. Many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites.
So Jesus called His disciples and said to them, "Assuredly, this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."
Mark 12:38-44 NKJV, condensed
Giving It All
The temple in Jerusalem brought the entire Jewish community together--rich and poor, wise and foolish, men, women and children. This sacred place not only symbolized their faith, but also their identity as a subculture living within the Roman empire. The temple was their favorite charity. They were proud of it's grandeur and long history.
The offering box was shaped like an ancient brass trumpet. Some commentaries say during religious festivals there were seven of these receptacles lined up; people giving small amounts put their money in the trumpets at one end while those depositing large amounts used the trumpets at the opposite end. Plus, there was an announcer who stated publicly what each person contributed!
We know nothing about the poor widow in this story, only that she gave her last two cents as an offering to the temple treasury. What was she thinking? What were her motives? Why would she do such a thing? Was it duty? Devotion? Despair? All these questions are unanswered and possibly irrelevant.
Mark introduced the text with a warning about the experts who studied the sacred Scriptures and paraded their prestigious position. In public they prayed long prayers, but in private they preyed on the weak and vulnerable. These were serious charges, and must have haunted the thoughts of the guilty.
The ancient commandments of God specifically directed the community of faith to care for and protect widows and orphans. But that was far from the minds of the onlookers that day. Instead they were watching with envy and amazement as the wealthy dropped their large contributions into the brass trumpets.
In contrast, Jesus was seeing a much bigger picture. He directed the attention of his disciples to a destitute widow. By doing so he also highlighted the negligence of the pious ones who refused to accept responsibility for her well being. Just look. This unnamed widow was surrounded by people steeped in the holy Scriptures, yet here in the temple courtyard no one but Jesus noticed her need. Having a widow living among them with only two meager coins to her name demonstrated a shameful act of disobedience to God's laws.
Instead of protecting her, they had preyed on her vulnerability and devoured her assets. Two demeaning coins was all she had left. With no fanfare she tossed them in. When Jesus saw it, he hallowed her gift and his Father's house. He declared the gospel truth that this poor widow had done more for the kingdom of heaven than all the others who had far more to contribute that day! They gave what they would not miss. She, despite her desperation, was extravagant to the point of giving her all.
Did she waste her livelihood that day on a religious system full of pompous, greedy sinners? Or does the beauty and selflessness of her act shine like golden sunlight through the cloud-filled Passover sky? Jesus was facing these same questions within himself. What a bunch of sinners to waste his life on! She had given her all and placed her future in God's hands; Jesus would do the same.
The widow's act of giving everything she had spoke to the heart of Jesus. How very timely, because he had come to Jerusalem to do the exact same thing. She foreshadowed the self-giving of Jesus on the cross. Most of us seek moderation and balance in our lives; Jesus took the all or nothing route. Like the heroine of this story, he would gain his life not by grasping, but by letting it go. Who among us has ever trusted God enough to go that far!
No wonder Jesus embraced the widow lady with his words. As a sheep approaching slaughter, he identified with her helplessness, her bravery, her determination to give her all. He understood. Hers was a faith in the ultimate victory of a righteous God.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: How good an observer are you? Who or what do you like to watch?
Would you be ashamed to put only 2 cents in the offering plate? What do you think that would feel like?
In part we know what motivated the scribes and Pharisees. They wanted people to think highly of them and praise them. But what do you think motivated the poor widow?
What we see and what we don't see is important and could have eternal significance. Had you been in that crowd, would you have noticed the widow? Explain why or why not. Who would you have been looking at? What difference does it make who catches your attention?
Is there any way you can identify with this poor widow? What do you think her fears and hopes were?
How do you read the last line in this text? Was Jesus praising her for putting her last cent in the offering box? Do you think that behavior is praiseworthy? Or misguided piety?Suppose Jesus was lamenting her need and the neglect of her faith community. How would that change your interpretation of this story?Jesus said nothing about her faith or her love for God? Why might that be?
What is the challenge Jesus lays before us in this text?
According to Acts 6:1-4, the treatment of widows was an issue in the early church. How was the matter resolved?James 1:27 defines pure religion: "to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." Is this how you normally think about religion? Why or why not.Mark 7:9-13 is another text that makes for interesting discussion on this subject.
Bystanders would think this shabby, lonely woman had little or nothing to contribute to the temple or to society as a whole. Next time you notice someone who fits that description, take another look. And make an attempt to see that person through God's eyes.
"WIDOW" --a poem by Susan JonesWidow A word to strike fear Into the heart of every Jewish woman Widow A hard word synonym for defenseless Poor. Alone. Nothing. For in your world you were nothing without a man Only father, husband, brother or son Gave you validation For you, the fear has come true and here you are Widowed, One of the poor ones Life hanging by a slender thread A tissue-thin connection Between you and hunger Between life and death Poor widow Nothing on which to come and go Just two small coins in your hand Enough for the next meal, perhaps But you Make your way bravely to the Temple treasury Ringing with the noise of many coins Thrown ostentatiously into brass trumpets. Quietly you slip between the crowd And drop in Your offering. Did you wonder whether anyone would notice? Whether your two small coins would make anydifference? Someone did see One who rated your two coins more highly Than all the clattering money thrown in that day by scribes Who make stripping widow's assets an occupation And down the years Your act tugs at our heartstrings And makes our overloaded purses Heavy with shame And any time we offer something small We commemorate your gift as we say "It's just a widow's mite." Thank you, widow woman For daring to come out of the obscurity Of your status-less life Refusing to let poverty restrict you Refusing to be a nobody Daring to be one Who gave the most priceless gift of all All she had.