The temple was to be a place of prayer and giving to God. It was not to be a place where people earned money for themselves by tempting others to spend their offering money before they could give it to God. Or, by short-changing people who needed to convert their currency to Jewish coins to make their offering.
Note: By New Testament times there were multiple coins in use: Roman coins (denarius), Greek coins (drachma, farthing), and Jewish coins (mite, pound, shekel, talent). The mite was a thin copper coin made of a poor grade of copper or bronze. It held the least value among the coins.
People poured into the temple from all over to offer their sacrifices by dropping coins into the trumpet-shaped chests along the walls of the temple court.
I imagine if you were wealthy and had lots to give, it could take you awhile to drop all your money in the top of that trumpet-shaped chest, especially if you dropped them just one coin at a time. Cha-ching… ching ... ching … ching-ching … ching ... ching …ching-ching. It would be obvious that you were putting much in as you stood there depositing coins, maybe even holding up the line for a minute until you were done.
It would also be obvious you were giving much by the type of coins you used. I served food for tips while in college. Sometimes my tip jar would seem full, yet when counted out, it would not amount to much as most of the coins were pennies or nickels and not quarters. I was always glad to see large, silver coins going into that jar rather than small copper ones! You could see who was giving much to God by the coins they were using.
On this Tuesday, Jesus was sitting across the way, in the section called the Court of Women, observing the scene as people gave their offerings to the treasury. The Bible tells us He saw many rich people putting in large sums. Let’s be honest, many religious leaders would be thrilled about this fact. It would mean a large total, guaranteeing that the temple would “meet budget.” And of course a well-funded temple can do many good things. It would also seem that God would be well honored by that day’s big offering, right? Yipee, lots of money raised for God!
We’re always impressed by large amounts of money and equate it with success. But God is impressed by a large heart — that’s His measure of success.
Jesus noticed a poor widow drop two small, low-value coins into the offering. Ching-ching. It probably took her two seconds to drop those two measly mites in and walk away. However, in Jesus’ eyes, she'd just dropped the equivalent of 2,000 mites into that chest! It was an offering He couldn't miss.
If you have a loaf of bread and you and your neighbor are both hungry, is it very difficult to break off a piece and share it with her? But if you have only one slice of bread, and you and your neighbor are both hungry …
Jesus got really excited about this woman’s tiny offering. In fact, He didn’t point out any of the big donors to His disciples – as we probably would’ve done – but He called them over to notice her. It’s not that Jesus wasn’t pleased with the wealthy people’s large donations; He was. It’s just that He knew it wasn’t as much of a sacrifice for them. They had plenty of money to meet all of their needs, afford many of their desires, and to give to the temple. Plus, they had the ability to easily earn piles more. Not so for a poor widow.
Jesus explains to His disciples that the widow had actually given the most that day because the others gave out of their surplus, or their plenty. The Hebrew word here is perisseuso, which means “excess” or “leftover” money. This widow did not have any excess or leftover money. Yet she gave what she had ...
Because the temple is to be a place of giving to God.
Our hearts are actually the temple of the Lord.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
If you back up and read the passage right before this widow’s story, you’ll see that Jesus wanted to teach His followers to pay attention to motives, and not just actions. In Mark 12:38-40 Jesus said, “Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.”
So it’s not just about how much we give, or how long we pray. Though giving much and praying much are noble actions. It’s also about the sacrifice involved and the motive for doing it. This widow shows us that pure motives and a willing sacrifice are worth millions in the kingdom of God. She didn’t give for show, but God himself saw and commended her. I wonder if she ever knew He saw that.
Do you give? Or, were you convinced before reading her story that you didn’t have enough extra money to give? I fall into the trap of thinking that at times. If God is speaking to your heart to give a gift in faith, check out the two Christian, non-profit organizations in my sidebar, or give to your local church. But don’t give because I’m encouraging you to – only give out of a pure motive of a true desire to show God your love and obedience. And don’t tell us that you gave – let that be for God alone to see.
Even if we are not poor widows lacking in extra money to give away, chances are there is some area of our life that we feel “poor” in. Where are you lacking “excess” or “leftover?” Are you lacking in hospitality? Are you lacking in willpower – to fast, to lose weight, to exercise, to stop spending money? Are you lacking in patience with others? Are you lacking in discipline… maybe to hold your tongue, or to serve your husband? Are you lacking time to call or visit that person you keep meaning to talk with? Are you lacking excess energy at the end of the day to pray or read about God? Where are you feeling “poor?”
Let’s try, like this widow, giving out of our places of lack with a pure heart, as an offering to God. Let’s not worry with how small the amount seems compared to others, or how silly the non-monetary gift seems compared to a gift of money. Let’s just give … because just a few days after watching the widow give all she had to live on in the temple, Jesus went to the cross and gave His all for us. Let’s give because the temple of the Lord – our heart – is to be a place of giving.
Care to share your two-cents worth on this woman's story?
(sorry, the word-geek in me couldn't resist the pun!)