The widow’s mite as a rebuke


“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

Jesus has just cleansed the Temple by driving out the money-changers, and gone on to rebuke the religious leaders in Jerusalem. He is about to tell everyone that the temple will be torn down. Yet in the midst of all of this prophesy and rebuke he pauses to take note of a poor widow.

The Widow’s gift is especially interesting when thought of in the context of the Temple. The Jews, especially the leadership like the Scribes, were charged with something called Tzedakah which is basically a Torah-mandated charity. Jesus was fresh from condemning the money-lending practices of the ruling class against the gentiles and here he is tearing apart the scribes for “devouring” the poor. Here in the temple, where God dwells, the fruit (or lack thereof) of this labor is evident.

Most preachers and commentators tend to focus on the superiority of the Widow’s gift because she gave it all. And her gift was indeed superior. But I think the deeper meaning, in context, is that she had so very little and she was in the temple. The scribes had not followed the obligation of Tzedakah. They weren’t caring for widows and orphans.

Just as they had failed the Gentiles, they had also failed their own poor. They were poor keepers of the true temple.

The Bible tells us that we, as image bearers of Christ, are the new temple. How are we doing collectively? Individually? Who are the widows and orphans among us? Who are the gentiles? What is stopping you from fulfilling your duties to each group?

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