The Widow’s Gift

Have you ever given some thought to what catches the eye of Jesus? Check this out: Sitting across from the temple treasury, Jesus watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. For they gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed—all she had to live on.”[i]

Unlike some who observe others to find fault and criticize, Jesus sits for awhile in the Court of the Women in the temple in Jerusalem to look for something good, something positive. I recall the statement of the U.S.D.A. inspector who said, “I have never seen a good chicken.” At first I didn’t get it. However, after some reflection I realized that the inspector trained himself to see only chickens that were a threat to the public’s safety. God is quick to see good as a better way and offer constructive encouragement to do it.

Hanani the seer reminds Asa the king and us, “the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to show himself strong for those whose hearts are completely his.”[ii] The context of this passage provides a teachable moment that shows the amazing patience of God. Asa failed to depend on God. So God sends Hanani to give Asa a teachable moment, and points out to him the patient God who yearns to encourage wholeness and wholeheartedness in him. However, because Asa was not wholehearted and completely dependent on God, he was unwilling to accept the teachable moment. Had he humbled himself there would not have been wars the rest of his reign. But the fact remains that God was looking to encourage the best for and in Asa.

A parent best reflects the Father God when s/he sees a teachable moment in which to create encouragement. I remember hearing about the parent who berated her adult son for misusing a word in a letter she received from him. In it he wrote about a throne and used the wrong word—thrown. A few days later he received a letter from his mother. In the first paragraph with bold strokes of a pen, she berating him for using the wrong word. THRONE was spelled out in large bold letters. He felt so embarrassed and ashamed. He knew better but had one of those moments when he wasn’t thinking. He never made that mistake again. How could he not forget to? But he didn’t feel loved or accepted. God is not like this parent. Had the man written the same letter to God about a “thrown” God would have smiled and been so grateful to receive it from his child. If we think God is mean and is easily impatient and upset with us, we need to pause to explore the origin of such a distorted image of God. Jesus is quick to take the opportunity to show his disciples a positive example of wholehearted unselfishness.

If ever a person was completely “all in” it was this poor widow. One second Jesus is quietly observing the procession of donors dropping coins into the treasury, the next second he becomes animated with joy. He calls his disciples to him to point out the example of the poor widow woman. What he saw was “the pure flame of love”[iii] for God in her heart. (By the way she is completely unaware of Jesus and the disciples. In fact, she’ll leave the temple and never learn about the conversation they had about her example.)

Contextually speaking, this is a remarkable act on the part of the woman. It is remarkable because, instead of her giving only one of the coins, she gave both of them. Unlike those preceding the widow there was no reservation in her. They gave out of their surplus; she gave all she possessed. It was as if she threw herself into the treasury! The cost was counted and love easily won out. Jesus describes her gift as “all she had to live on.” As poor as she was, her act of worship to God left her nothing to depend on but God. Further, her offering is remarkable because Mark 13 announces the total destruction of the temple of the God she loved so much.[iv] So corrupt was the system of religion for which the temple represented it would lie as rubble indistinguishable to its former glory. Hers was “an action of the lowliest beauty, a modest flower of Hebrew piety in the vast desert of formality.”[v]

And so she passes out of the gates of the temple and into obscurity. What happened to her? We really don’t know. But Jesus memorialized her action of wholehearted love for God in the Gospel of Mark. Conscious of no one but the One she loved and completely depended on, she went to her home, humble as it was. And I cannot help but resonate with G. A. Chadwick’s imaginative scenario of the poor widow’s future. He wrote:

“We picture her return to her sordid drudgery, unaware of the meaning of the new light and peace which followed her, and why her heart sang for joy. We may think of the Spirit of Christ which was in her, leading her afterwards into the Church of Christ, an obscure and perhaps illiterate convert, undistinguished by any special gift, and only loved as the first Christians all loved each other. And we may think of her now, where the secrets of all hearts are made known, followed by myriads of the obscure and undistinguished whom her story has sustained and cheered, and by some who knew her upon earth, and were astonished to learn that this was she.”[vi]

In a generation characterized too often by selfies, narcissistic preoccupation with ourselves, and self-assertive self-promotion, it is refreshing to read about a woman who was adorned with humility and an unassuming, spirit of sacrificial love.

[i] Mark 12:41-44.

[ii] 2 Chronicles 16:9a

[iii] G. A. Chadwick, Jeremiah-St. Mark, Vol. 4, An Exposition of the Bible, (The Scranton Co., N.D.), p. 897.

[iv] See Mark 13:1-2.

[v] Chadwick, p. 897.

[vi] Ibid. pp. 897-98.

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