Story 169: Passion Week: The Widow’s Mite

Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4

elderly lady begging in Morocco

For most of the Bible stories on this site, the only things added to the stories are things like geographical facts, theological insights or reminders of where we are in the context of the broader biblical narrative. The goal is to keep as close to the story as possible while providing helpful information to understand it better.  The story of the widow’s mite is very short.  It is only four verses in both Mark and Luke, yet it is rich with the background of what it would have meant to be a widow in the time of Christ and what it would have meant to trust God in such a state. How might she have leaned on the Word in her growing process of trusting God wholeheartedly? There is a reason Jesus responded to the widow’s faith with such tenderness and delight…and even holy pride? For this precious story, I thought it might help to add a backstory to help us dig into what it meant for her to trust the Lord so profoundly…

She didn’t have much. Time had worn hard on her life. Yet over the years, she had learned things that gave her a simple but magnificent freedom. Though she had loved her husband greatly, God had taken him very early, and she had been a widow for a long time. As her own years stretched on, she became more and more poor. There were days when she wasn’t certain if she would eat. There were nights that would have been much more pleasant if she had another blanket to keep her old bones warm. Yet God had proven utterly faithful in the long and lonely years. She felt the covering of her Lord over her, like a great wing overshadowing her and protecting her (Ps. 17:6-9). The Most High God had been so close. How He loved her so! She didn’t have much, but everything she had belonged to Him, and He had provided (Prov. 3:5-6; Is. 30:15). And so with her last two copper pennies, she made her way along with the crowds to the grand and glorious Temple.

The Passover Feast had come once again, and as always she wanted to bring her offering to her Lord. As she entered the gates, the religious leaders stood tall in their elegant robes, speaking to each other in dignified voices. They could hardly veil their scorn for the masses of people who clogged the Temple courts with their gifts to God. The dear widow crept on by, far beneath their notice or care. As she looked up at their imposing figures, she recognized one of them. He was the son of the Pharisee who owned the home that she and her family lived in when her husband died. It was such a nice, open place, so full of love and memory. Of course they could not afford to live there once her husband was gone.

How terrible she felt when she could not pay her last month’s rent. The Pharisee was furious with her. She supposed he had a right to be, though it was hard when he claimed all of the belongings that she and her husband had gathered over the years.  He held great power and great knowledge of Scripture.  It never occurred to her to consider whether he was right in what he did…it was what the people expected from these religious leaders.

That move was the first of many.   It was also the beginning of a whole new life with God. She began to see Him move His strong arm to protect her in ways she could not have imagined before. Strangers would show her unusual kindness, food would come at just the right time, a neighbor would give her a new tunic just as hers was wearing out. Day after day, her God had proved faithful (Ps. 18:1-19). How powerful and mighty was He! How loving and good!  When she saw the women who were consumed by their clothing and jewelry, her heart filled with pity for them.  What a burden to carry, what a barrier to finding hope in God Himself instead of all those trappings.  How precious her time with God had become, how wonderful His deeds, how beautiful His face.

These were her thoughts as she walked through the Temple courts. She had spent many years choosing to trust God, choosing to be grateful, and now grateful praise were the pattern of her thoughts and feelings. Joy was the habit of her heart (Ps. 5:10-11; 37:3-6).

As she quietly moved into the line up to the Temple treasury, she could hear the clanging of the golden coins that the rich poured into the collection drums. What a wonderful riot of noise they made. “Surely,” she thought, “They give a great and mighty gift to God.” She looked down into her hand at the little nubs of bronze that sat in her palm. They were ridiculous, weightless little coins. They were only worth a cent, but they were everything. And because of her long years of faith, because of her deep humility, knowing that she could never have enough to give her holy God, she was content to give Him what she had. He would accept them as surely as He accepted her. With a special peace she prayed:

“‘Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord God,

Bright hope lifted in her as she silently declared,

“‘The Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them–

the Lord who remains forever faithful.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…

The LORD watches over the alien

And sustains the fatherless and the widow,

But He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever…

Praise the Lord!'”

Psalm 146:5-6a; 7a; 9a; 10b

She knew Him. She knew the value of her offering to Him. So great was the love of the Almighty God. She lived in the shelter of His wings. And there was a wealth and abundance to her inner life.  For you see, this poor little widow was lavishly rich in faith.

That day was very busy for the Lord Jesus in the Temple courts. He taught bright and striking things about God and the future. He fiercely rebuked the leaders of Jerusalem, who used the faith of God’s people to make money for themselves and reinforce their positions of power. The contamination of their sin was everywhere.

Jesus also knew that not everyone in Israel was so rebellious. There were many who worshipped God in beauty and truth from the depths of their hearts. As He continued doing the perfect will of His Father in the Temple courts, He saw them, too.

At one point in the day, Jesus stood with His disciples across from the Temple treasury. People filed in, bringing their money offerings to God. The rich came in proudly with their large sums. How much they seemed to give the Lord! How blessed they were in this life! Many Jews believed that those who gave more money pleased God more than those who couldn’t afford it. In fact, many in Israel believed that God blessed the rich with more money because they were more righteous than the poor.

Imagine the pressure and shame this put on those who were already living in poverty. Not only did they live with the pain and struggle of having so little, they had to live with condemnation because they were poor! Once again, Jesus came to speak a bright and beautiful truth against a terrible, destructive lie.

As Jesus watched the people pour their riches into the treasury drums, He spied out a woman by herself…a widow…who crept up quietly among them. She was obviously poor. Her clothes were little better than rags. The Lord continued to watch her as she reached out her hand and dropped in two tiny copper coins.   They made no sound, especially compared to the wild jangling of the wealthy offerings poured out by the people in front of her. If anyone had been close enough to look into her eyes, they would have seen a rich and glowing delight, a contentment too deep for words.

The Lord Jesus was not so close, but He saw. He listened to the Spirit of His Father and was deeply moved.   With all the examples of faithless unbelief in Israel surrounding Him, here was a woman of true devotion. She loved His Father, she trusted Him, and the Son of God was amazed. He gathered His disciples together…He didn’t want them to miss her. They wondered what the urgency could be. With a tender smile lingering in His eyes, Jesus pointed her out.

“‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put more than all the other contributors to the treasury; for they put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.'”

Wow. Imagine the glory of the little widow! In the courts of the Temple, the King of Creation’s palace on earth, she delighted the Prince of Heaven with her beauty…an exquisiteness of trust that radiated from her humility and surrender to God. For all of the darkness and faithlessness in the nation of Israel, here was the one who could strike the heart of God’s Son with wonder. Her abandoned trust was all He ever wanted from them all…and all He requires from each of us.

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