The treasury boxes were made of metal, and as a result, you could hear the coins as they dropped in. The wealthy would walk into the temple with their servants in tow, each with a large bag of money to dump into boxes in front of all the awed onlookers. And just before the noisy dumping would begin, a priest would tally the money and make a public note of how much was being given. The larger the total, the louder the noise, the more generous and the more wealthy the giver.
Jesus and his disciples sat there people watching. If we were there with them, it would have been natural to be taken with the large sums of money being given by the pious and devout wealthy and completely miss a simple, poor widow slipping in two pennies. We might have overlooked her, but Jesus didn’t.
After she passed through, Jesus called his disciples around him to give them his perspective on what just happened. We saw what was an often ostentatious display of pious wealth, and what Jesus saw, naturally, was very different. Hear what the Lord says:
“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put out everything she had, all she had to live on.” (vs. 43-44)
I find it great that she put in “more.” Up to this point we would say she actually put in less than everyone else—literally less than everyone else. But that is not how Jesus saw it. I think the key to Christ’s perspective can be found in one small detail. The widow had two pennies. We would have found it entirely reasonable if she put in one penny, still a great sacrifice for her, and saved the other to eat with the next day. After all, what difference is one penny going to make to the temple? Instead, she gave both—everything she had. What did Jesus see?
I think Jesus saw an act of sacrifice, obedience and worship on her part. Instead of seeing the amount of the gift, he saw what she did as an act for God. She was not hording, grandstanding or strutting. She was giving to God to worship and obey him.
I think we also see God’s ability to make great and amazing things out of small gifts. Here we are, 2000 years later, still marveling over an offering of two pennies. This also helps us understand how the Kingdom of God works. We do not need to wait for the most powerful and wealthy among us to do something for God before something of value can be done. God wants what is in my hand right now, whether it is marvelous or negligible. Never refuse to give because you think it is too small. Never refuse to do because you think it won’t make a difference.
We also see in her offering the fact that giving is an act of service to God first and to people second. When Paul encourages the Corinthians to give, he notes the abundant gifts of the poor and persecuted Macedonians. He says, “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Cor. 8:5). We give in part to make sure our hearts are right with God and that money is not an idol in our lives.
Finally, she is a powerful example of what Jesus asks of his disciples and of what he is about to do himself. She is an unexpected example of discipleship. When Jesus says she, “put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (12:44) that phrase could also be translated, “she gave her whole life.” Jesus called his disciples to leave their life as fishermen behind and follow him. He told them that it would require that they take up their cross and that they would need to lose their life for him in order to find it (8:34-35). And, ultimately, in a couple of days, Jesus is about to give his life on the cross so that we might have life. This poor widow is an stunning example of what it means for me to follow Christ to the cross.
The words of this hymn say it well:
I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness watch and pray,
Find in me thy all in all.”
Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow.