Learning from THE LEAST
Many in the Church wallow in their ostentation yet, as John McLaughlan shows us, there is much we can all learn from the poor widow
We read in the latter part of Mark 11 and in Mark 12 that Jesus had dealings on that particular day with religious leaders, some of whom tried to trap Him in His teaching so as to discredit Him in the eyes of the common people. But there was also one scribe who after asking Jesus a question about the “first commandment of all” (Mark 12:28) was commended by Jesus as being “not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). Jesus next turned the tables on the religious leaders by questioning them about the identity of the Messiah (Mark 12:35-37). Finally He concludes His teaching by warning the common people about the hypocrisy of the scribes (Mark 12:38-40). Immediately after this we are told the story of the “poor widow” and the offering that she put into the temple treasury.
Jesus saw the Rich and the Poor
We are told that Jesus “sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury” (Mark 12:41) while Luke 21:1 informs us that “He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury” . So, it appears that after a long and testing day Jesus sat down and watched the rich making a great display of their giving to the temple. The collecting boxes that were used were called ‘The Trumpets’ because they were shaped like trumpets and any money dropped into them made a sound that could be heard by anyone in the vicinity: The more coins given then the louder the sound. Jesus watched how the rich put their money into these trumpets in such a way that all could hear how rich and generous they were. Jesus had spent His day dealing with such people and this final display of their hypocrisy summed up the true standing of the religious leadership of that time.
While all this was going on Jesus “saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites” (Luke 21:2). It was only Jesus who noticed this widow: No one else even saw her. It is interesting how invisible the poor and needy can be in a society. It would appear that from the sound that her offering made that it could be determined that she had only given “two mites” . The two coins that she gave were the smallest of all the coins in use at that time and the word translated “mites” is the Greek lepton, which literally means ‘a thin one’ . We can well imagine this widow quietly going up to give her gift after the rich had given their money and had paraded off in their pomp. This widow hoped that no one would see her insignificant offering and, in truth, no one did – except Jesus! We are not told, but we can presume, that this widow silently slipped away just as she had come with no one giving any attention to her. There would be folk fussing around the rich as they made their way out of the temple after their ostentatious giving, but none of them would fuss over this “poor widow”.
A Widow’s Faith
We are not told much about this widow but it would appear that she had no family to support her and that all the wealth that she possessed in the world was these two coins. We know that she had a genuine devotion to the LORD for she gave all the wealth that she had to the temple. She could have kept back one of her coins to buy some food for herself and have given the other coin into the temple treasury. No one could have found fault with her if she had done that, but instead she chose to give all she had to the LORD out of her devotion to Him. She did not know where her next meal was coming from but as she gave her offering she trusted the LORD for all that she needed. The rich showed their devotion to their wealth by giving “out of their abundance” while she showed her devotion to the LORD by giving “her whole livelihood” .
Jesus made no comment to His disciples about the greatness of this widow’s faith for what she had done showed her devotion to the LORD and there was nothing else that Jesus needed to add about this matter. Jesus knew that His Father would look after such a devoted and faithful widow. Jesus was prepared to let this widow walk away quietly and unnoticed without offering her any help. He could have asked Judas, who held the group’s money, to go across and give the widow some money for her next meal, but He did not do so. We can imagine some people in our church communities in our day saying that we need to give money and support to such people and that we need to be seen to care for the poor, yet Jesus did not do so! This widow had her own personal walk with the LORD and Jesus would let her carry on in her walk of faith trusting the LORD for tomorrow as she trusted the LORD for today. We know little about this widow, not even her name, but what we do know is that she was devoted to, and trusted in, the LORD her God.
Ungodliness and rejection of the Word
This story is recorded in both Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:41-44) and Luke’s gospel (Luke 21:1-4) and in both instances the story immediately precedes Jesus’ teaching about the destruction of the temple and the signs of the end. Is it too much to presume that the positioning of this event is significant in how we approach the end times that lie before us? As we look at the Church in our day there is much that speaks of ungodliness and rejection of the Word of God; there is much religious ritual with little or no heart devotion to the Lord Jesus Himself; there is much talk but much less quiet and faithful devotion to the Lord Jesus. We can see here a parallel with much of the religious goings-on that Jesus encountered. In the face of much religious hypocrisy this “poor widow” walked with the LORD. She may be unable to correct the wrong doings of the religious leaders but whatever they do will not turn her from her devotion to the LORD. In our day we can too easily be discouraged by what we see so-called church leaders say and do but we must be careful not to let their sinful ways divert us from our devotion to the Lord Jesus.
Trust in Him
Surely, as we face the perilous times ahead of us, it is the simple faith we see in this widow that the LORD is looking to see in us. The LORD does not need our great gifts and our wealth, but He is looking for those who will trust Him even though many, if not all, will not even notice them or take account of them. Such people may be insignificant to the world, but just as Jesus alone noticed that “poor widow” so He will notice those whose hearts are devoted to Him. The “poor widow” had no other hope in her life than the LORD Himself: If He did not help her then there was no hope for her at all! In the difficult times that lie ahead, believers will find themselves in a similar position where their only hope is in the LORD Himself.
What strikes me about this story of the “poor widow” is not so much her faith and obedience, for if she was just obedient and did what was expected, then she may have only given one of her two coins – But she gave both of her last coins! This expresses true devotion and sacrifice to the LORD on her part. This was not asked of her but she chose to offer such devotion to the LORD. This widow faced her future without a penny to her name but her heart was devoted to the LORD Himself and we can be sure that the LORD looked after her. We do not know this widow’s name, she was not famous in her day, there was no statue erected in her memory, there was no film made about her life and she may have made no great impact upon her society, but we do know that Jesus noticed her and commended her. It may well be that it is only such devotion to the Lord Jesus that will carry us through the terrifying days that lie ahead of us.