And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44
Writing the devotions for my fellowship this week, I am struck by this widow.
Yes, it was an infinitesimal offering that I’m sure she hoped no one would notice her making. I doubt they did. I’m sure there was too much backslapping going on among the wealthy as they paraded their offerings. Two mites. More specifically, two leptons – approximately equivalent, we’re told to 1/128 of a denarius which was reportedly a day’s wage. Let’s translate that into something meaningful for us. Our minimum wage is currently $7.25. Work an eight hour day at minimum wage and you’re grossing about $58. 1/128 of $58 is about 45¢ (I hope I did my math right!) — just enough to buy a Snickers bar if you’re lucky.
And yes, Jesus sees, and yes, he comments to his disciples that she gave more than all the rest. Yes, we know that. Great story, great application, and great illustration for Sunday “tithing” sermons or church fund raising campaigns.
But what strikes me is the fact that Jesus just characterized his surrounding religious culture, among other things, as “devourers of widow’s households.” The “proprietors” of the religious establishment on whose premises and into whose “deposit box” this widow is dropping her last two quarters are the very ones who, more than likely, reduced her to such poverty by their religious and economic exploitation of her and the rest of the “peasant class.” This widow has been victimized by the system. She has been used and abused and then ignored and marginalized and sidelined with the rest of those deemed unsavory, deemed nobodies.
She could have turned inward. She could have become cynical and hardened, viewing that place with an evil eye and an increasingly bitter heart. She could have lashed out at the system with virulent diatribes, castigating, shaming, protesting, cursing, unsparingly pointing out the hypocrisy that the “temple” reeked of. She could have been casting stones at the institution that had wronged her and countless others, that had financially raped her, that had treated her as an expendable resource to use up and discard.
And there she stands. No stones to hurl. Just her last two quarters. No Judas, she, violently throwing them down in protest and despair. No, she quietly, lovingly, devotedly drops them into the box – there is no sound heard by a soul as they hit the bottom. A broken heart has shaped a larger spirit; eyes wept dry now see worlds opening up to view.
Something greater than the temple is here.
Now, sure, we no doubt can imagine what would have happened to her had she spoken up (and she no doubt could have too) – and we can hasten to add that Jesus gave full voice to the indignation over the injustices done to her (think of that – the fire of Matthew 23 and all of it’s woes was a fire stoked rather directly by Jesus’ knowledge of wrongs done to a poor widow like this). Yes, Jesus fumed and spat and cursed in his final rendering of the Divine verdict on that “evil and perverse generation” (though I see him weeping, not raving, at it’s peak).
But right now I see this widow. I see one burned by religion, by the system. I sit with Jesus and I see those two coins as they fall out of her hand into the box.
And He invites me to learn.