A Tribute to a Nameless Widow
There is a touching narrative recorded in Mark’s Gospel account that is brimming with spiritual lessons. The record reads as follows:
“And he sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they that are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living’” (Mk. 12:41-44; cf. Lk. 21:1-4).
Because of the historical information that we have regarding Herod’s temple, we know that Jesus was in that portion of the sacred house called the “Court of the Women.” This court was an open area, about 200 feet square, at the eastern end of the temple complex. The Lord occasionally taught in this region of the temple (cf. Jn. 8:20).
The Court of the Women also was called “the treasury” because in this segment there were thirteen, trumpet-shaped receptacles, posted around the walls, into which the Jews placed their offerings for the expenses incurred in conjunction with the temple services.
On this occasion, the Savior positioned himself at a certain station and “beheld” the Hebrews passing by, dropping their gifts into the coffers. The verb that reflects the Lord’s gaze is one that gives attention to the examination of details, with more than passing interest. And the imperfect tense format suggests a sustained study of the matter.
Christ noticed that those who were wealthy cast much into the treasury (perhaps with considerable flare). In such cases quantity, of course, was to be expected, for to whom much is given, of them much is required (cf. Lk. 12:48). (Can you imagine the spiritual deprivation of those who have much, but with that abundance do little —or perhaps even nothing?)
As Jesus observed the situation, a delightful thing happened. A poor widow approached. The adjective “poor” (
ptochos) is the word for absolute destitution. It is related to a kindred term meaning to “crouch,” and, as Barclay notes, it describes the sort of poverty that has been beaten to its knees (p. 109-111). Luke also uses the term
penichros (21:2), which describes the working person who has nothing left over after sustaining his existence. It is sufficient to say that this lady was inordinately impoverished.
Christ observed, however, that the dear lady cast “two mites” (
lepta) into the treasury. Mark, writing for a Roman audience, notes that “two mites” make “a farthing.” This sum represented “all” the lady possessed, her “entire living.” It amounted to about 1/64 of the average working man’s daily wage in Palestine, which was approximately eighteen cents per day (cf. Mt. 20:2). Had she been inclined to feast that day, this poor saint could have afforded only one-half of a sparrow at the market place (Mt. 10:29).
Three quick points regarding this precious soul are worthy of note.
(1) She was devoted to Jehovah. She embraced the Old Testament concept that the presence of God hallowed the temple in a special way. In spite of her desperate condition, she would not be dissuaded from doing what she could to support this cause so dear to her heart. Her religious fervor eclipsed her physical interests.
(2) She was a self-less person. She did not calculate her resources to determine whether or not she was able to afford this gift. Her heart was beating with gratitude for Heaven’s gracious blessings and that was all that mattered at the moment. Some would call her irresponsible, even reckless; Jesus characterized her as uniquely generous.
(3) She was a believer in Jehovah’s providence. Even though she gave her entire income, she trusted that the Lord somehow would care for her. She did not believe that she would die of starvation (cf. Psa. 37:25). She was confident that the Lord was her Shepherd, and she would not “want” (Psa. 23:1). Such sacrificial trust is rare indeed.
But there are some truths to be learned from this incident regarding Christ as well.
(1) The Lord takes great interest in the level of dedication that is demonstrated by folks who profess a devotion to God. The case of Ananias and Sapphira is evidence aplenty of this reality. Everything that we own is the Lord’s, and we are but his stewards. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be faithful (1 Cor. 4:2), for a man will give account for his stewardship (Lk. 16:2).
(2) While many in our modern world would criticize this lady for the lavishness of her gift, the Savior commended her. He elevated her above those who gave larger amounts, thus revealing that proportionate giving is more significant than a mere amount. Christ elevates quality above quantity.
(3) This incident also underscores the deity of Jesus: He intuitively knew that this lady had been married, and now was widowed; he knew that she was exceedingly poor, with only minimal resources to sustain her meager existence; and he knew that this woman had deposited into the treasury her entire income —“all her living.”
Christ could not have known these facts of a strange woman by merely observing the scene as it unfolded. This is but one of the countless lines of evidence that the man from Nazareth was no ordinary person. He was God in the flesh (Jn. 1:1, 14).
The gracious woman who is the heroine of this narrative remains unnamed across the centuries. Her example, however, has inspired countless sincere people who have needed a “nudge” with reference to their monetary allegiance to the Almighty. We cannot but call her blessed, and we may have every expectation of meeting her in the eternal kingdom.
- Barclay, William, A New Testament Wordbook, (New York: Harper & Bros.)
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.