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. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
(Mark 12:41-44 NIV)
Jesus had been questioned in the Temple – many religious rulers tested Him in order to find fault with Him and have reason arrest Him. They all walked away unsuccessful and amazed. They dared not ask Jesus any more questions.
Yesterday we saw Jesus ask the last question and also warn against the pride and selfishness of the scribes (the lawyers) who were self-proclaimed experts in the Law.
Today, we see Jesus stop and look for teachable moments with His disciples. Jesus sat across from the many donation boxes near the wall of the Women’s Court in the Temple. Historians tell us that there were thirteen such giving boxes, each with a trumpet-shaped opening where people deposited their money. The metal coins clanked into the boxes; the more clanking, the bigger the donation. The larger the donation, the bigger the sign of self-righteous piety on behalf of the giver and the larger resulting praise from the religious officials.
Do you like to people watch in public places? It’s one of my favorite things to do, especially when traveling. Everyone has a story, and the expressions on people’s faces and what (or whom) they have in tow often tell how they’re holding up (or not). Weary business travelers just want to get home and see their loved ones; parents with young children look forward to seeing grandparents, siblings, cousins, and other family members; teenagers, young adults, and couples look forward to an adventure while at their destination.
Jesus calls His disciples together and points out an unnamed widow putting two copper coins in the offering box. The sound of these two coins would have hardly made a sound as she dropped them in. The religious officials would likely have either ignored her or given her a nod of thanks but no lavish praises.
To understand the size of these coins, imagine a coin the diameter of an American penny, but half its thickness. Two of these coins would weigh about the same as one American penny. This small copper coin was called a lepton (meaning “thin one”) and was the smallest and least valuable coin minted in Jesus’ day.
Jesus takes this opportunity to explain God’s economy to His disciples. Jesus tells His disciples that this widow has given more than all the other givers, as she gave everything she had, not just a portion of her funds out of her surplus. God’s economy is upside down from the world’s economy; in Jesus’ eyes, she deserves the most praise of all. She would have been totally justified in giving one coin and keeping the other, but she did not. She gave both coins.
So what can we learn from today’s text? I think there are two important truths here – the obvious one about giving, and a second (and not so obvious one) about the responsibility of those that teach and are in leadership.
There are two truths from this passage about giving that pleases the Lord:
- Giving must be both sacrificial and without expectation. Do we give God the “first fruits” of our labor, or the leftovers? What are we willing to give up in order to give more back to God? Do we give without expecting anything in return, or are we giving and expecting God to return a blessing bigger than what we gave?
- Giving must have an element of faith and abandon to God. To be clear, I am not advocating financial irresponsibility; we must pay our bills and meet basic family needs. Beyond meeting our basic needs, do we step out in faith with our giving and trust God to supply funds so we can bless others beyond what our family budget would normally indicate?
Secondly, let’s look at the responsibility of those that teach and are in leadership. It’s no coincidence that Jesus talked about the selfish motives of the scribes. They likely taught that people were to give generously; if people gave their money to them, God would bless them in return. Does this sound like anything today (i.e., televangelists)?
Scribes were forbidden from charging for their services, but verbal pleas for donations were allowed. These scribes would often go after donations from people with limited means, such as widows and low-income families. Thus Jesus’ condemnation in yesterday’s text (v. 40) where He accused the scribes of devouring widows’ houses.
May we give back to God freely and sacrificially and in faith.
May we be careful what we teach about giving, and not take advantage of others in order to make money for ourselves.