Every Sunday, the church is privileged to worship our God. One of the acts in which we engage in during worship is giving. That is, many members will give money during the allotted time of worship service. Some are able to give a lot of money, others less. Unfortunately, some do not give. The money collected is used for a variety of reasons including local evangelism, missionary support, and maintanence of the building.
It is interesting to note that this practice of the church has Jewish roots. Under the Law, Jews gave the tithe, a tenth, to the Lord. Even before the Law, Abraham gave a tenth of his spoils to Melchizedek. Giving has been a something that God has approved of, even commanded of his people since the beginning; Cain and Abel offered sacrfices to God. In Luke 21.1-4, Luke records the account of when a poor widow (a picture of true poverty in the first century) showed up at the treasury of the temple to make an offering.
Now Mark sets the stage for us when he records that Jesus was sitting “opposite the treasury” (Mark 12.41); perhaps he is tired from the exertion that went along with his four round heavyweight bout with the Pharisees and scribes. So he is able to see everyone coming in to make their offerings. Now there were 13 offering boxes (ESV) or trumpets (called that for their shape) which were labeled so you knew where your money was going when you gave. In this scene, Luke makes the striking contrast between the rich and poor. The rich people are coming up with their offerings and dropping it down into the mouth of the offering box. Perhaps the large sums of money make a lot of noice as they clatter into the offering box.
But then a poor (lit. lacking the essential means of livelihood) widow, one who is in dire circumstances (for a widow had basically not means of income) comes forward with her offering. She gives “two small copper coins” (ESV) or “two mites” (KJV, ASV). It was the smallest of the current currency. It was a very small, thin coin worth less than a penny today. Clink clink. I wonder if she was embarassed, if her face was flush with color because she had to follow those who were rich and whose great amount of money had great noice when dropped into the offering boxes.
Jesus shows why there was no need for her to be embarassed. He says she has put in more than everyone else, more than the each rich person who came to make an offering. The force of the words cannot be stressed. Literally Jesus says she gave “more than all” – her offering was greater than all of those rich before her combined. Wow! Why? Jesus explains: “For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (v.4, ESV). It was not about size but significance. This was all she had to live on (and it wasn’t much). What’s incredible to me is that she had two of these coins, implying she could have kept one. But to hold back would make the gift no different than those of the rich. This action of giving both mites is an action demonstrating her total reliance upon God. It was a true sacrifice to give all she had. The rich before had their bank accounts to fall back on; this widow, when she commits to give those two coins to the Lord, has nothing.
It should be noted that Jesus does not make her rich. A lot of televangelists will tell you that God wants you rich and if you give a lot of money, God will make you rich. Jesus does not miraculously give this widow riches. He does not command the rich to give her money. He does not tell his disciples to give her money. As far as we she know, she died a poor widow. But that’s the point! Luke is rife with warnings for the rich (Luke 16.14-15; 16.19ff; 18.24; 20.46-47, et al). Indeed, one of the greatest sermons ever preached (but not nearly as well known as the Sermon on the Mount) is recorded by Luke and the first blessing is for the poor (Luke 6.20b). Why? Because you cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6.24) and those who are rich must take special care lest they trust in their money, in this world, rather than God. This widow represents a disposition which is always looking toward God for deliverance and sustenance.
One final word: “As for the rich of this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” – 1 Timothy 6.17-19. I ask you: who are the rich today, the rich of this present age? Are they the people in Washington? Are they the movie stars of Hollywood? Or is rich just another word for those who have more than their “daily bread”?