Rethinking the Widow’s Mite
Written by: Nathaniel Wall
Like me, you are probably familiar with the story of the widow’s mite. If it seems a little fuzzy, let me remind you. A poor widow goes to the temple in Jerusalem and gives away the only money she has in an offering to the temple treasury.
This story is found in Luke 21:1-4 and in Mark 12:41-44. Most people view this story as one that heralds the sacrificial giving of an older woman. She gave “all that she had” to the Lord.
Are you familiar with the worth of a widow’s mite? A quick Google search can tell you one mite is worth less than a penny! How can you have less than a penny? Would you carry that in your pocket? I would not. What are you going to buy with half a penny? This widow’s offering tells us she was extremely poor.
People read that this story often praise this widow for her incredible faith though she had extraordinarily little to give. I know I used to believe that this was the point of this story! However, is that what Jesus wants us to believe? Are we to mimic the widow’s behavior? Does Jesus want poor widows to give away every half penny they possess?
The main point of the story of the widow’s mite is not what most people have assumed. Have you ever noticed Jesus does not praise the widow for her offering? He does not even encourage us to duplicate her behavior. He simply states what she did as a fact. Yes, he compares the widows offering to the offering of religious leaders, but I don’t think Jesus shares the widow’s story to persuade you to follow her example. Jesus uses the widow to illustrate an entirely different point.
Consider the story…
Mark 12:41 And He (Jesus) sat down opposite the treasury (at the temple), and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent (two widow’s mites). 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
Notice, Jesus is simply observing the rich and poor placing money into the treasury. He specifically identifies a single widow that gave all that she had to the treasury. Do you think it sounds like a good idea for a widow to give away all that she has to live on? I know we often herald this passage as an incredible act of faith, but would you want your poor grandmother to give away her last dime to survive? I doubt it. Why? Because you love her, it is all she has, and she needs it to live!
Did Jesus want this woman to give her last two cents to the treasury?
If we take a moment to add a little more context to this story, we will have a much different picture of this widow’s mite. In fact, we will find that some of us might even be guilty of using this widow’s story to communicate the opposite of what Jesus wants us to understand.
Look what Jesus says in Mark 12:38-40…
Mark 12:38-40 He (Jesus) was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
What is Jesus saying? Jesus is saying that the rich powerful religious leaders want to be idolized and praised, and they will take advantage of people to receive it. They are destroying the widow. To drive the point home, Jesus shows the disciples a specific widow giving all that she has because of the guilt, shame and oppression her leaders place on her.
Let me ask, how does this change your perspective on the widow’s mite? Rather than look at the widow as an example to follow, doesn’t she become a person needing rescue? Doesn’t it provoke you to want to stand up and fight for her? Does it lead you to look at what you could give of yourself to end her suffering?
Where in your society can we find the suffering of the widow? Who is the largest marginalized group in our society? If we can’t find our modern-day widow, Jesus is encouraging us to open our eyes to the needs around us! Disciples, Jesus is calling us to be the hands and feet of the goodness of God in a world that oppresses the weak. Things are broken and you can help bring healing.
The next time someone brings up the widow’s mite, think about the oppressed and the weak and let that lead your heart to act and give. Think about those in power that prey against those with nothing. Do something to rescue them. Should people give? Yes! Should we guilt the weak and those in poverty to give all they have? No! We should be fighting for them and certainly not ignore them. May we open our eyes and respond. Lord, thank you for the story of the story of the widow’s mite.