The Widow’s Offering

The Widow’s Offering 

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

There are many stories of giving in Scripture.  This is one of three we have looked at.  The other two are Zaccheus and the rich young ruler.  This and the rich young ruler are about giving everything. All of them are about defining moments in life.  None of them are the one Biblical model for giving.  They are not fictional characters used to illustrate a perspective.  They are real people who had their own separate encounters with Christ.

Where did the day begin?

He started the day in Bethany and has been working his way toward Jerusalem in a relentless drive.  Like a campaign with multiple cities.

Surrounded by people – all kinds.

Admirers wanting attention.

Opponents with trick questions and posing as followers.

Communicating with parables, questions of his own but not getting through.

The closer he gets to Jerusalem the more intense and sophisticated is the opposition.  These new opponents are used to playing hardball. This is the last line of defense for them and they are prepared.  The religious leaders have even made a pact with their enemies – the Herodians – to stop Jesus.

He finally goes off by himself into another court of the Temple – away from everyone – even the disciples.

He goes to the place of offerings.

He is watching – people watching.

A game we play all the time in hotel lobbies, malls and airports.

The word here is our word for “theorizing”.  He is “gazing”, discerning, contemplating, speculating, seeing into.  The same word used for the way he looked at the rich young ruler.  Looking not just into the eyes but into the heart.

It’s a side of Jesus we don’t see often.  Off to himself but watching people.  Not in prayer or isolated.  It’s part of how he gets his stories.  He watches people.

What is he watching?

How people give – not just what they give.

Our giving is a mark of our gratitude and that is the very heart of worship.  How we give is a litmus test of our relationship with God.  Do we give cheerfully or reluctantly?  Do we give out of gratitude or guilt?  Do we give or do we buy?

In this case, he was watching how they put their money in the treasury.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says to the disciples:  “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

When we read about trumpets we think about a procession but I think Jesus was referring to the receptacles at the Temple which were actually shaped like trumpets.  When the offering was tossed in, the brass would magnify the sound of the offering.  The rich were literally throwing their offerings (the word is “ballistos”) into the brass receptacles to make sure everyone would know how much they were giving. The object was to be loud and obvious with their giving.

They were giving out of their abundance but I don’t believe that was the problem Jesus found with them.  After all, Paul is clear in 2 Corinthians that God will make us “rich in every way so that we may give” so giving out of abundance is not the issue.  The issue is making the abundance so noisy and the offering so obvious.  There is nothing wrong with abundance.  All of us give out of our abundance but we are not to broadcast it.

And then after a long line of unremarkable people who are desperate for attention but go virtually unnoticed, he spots one woman who makes him so excited he goes off to grab his disciples so they can see.

She is a poor widow. Literally, someone reduced to begging.  Not someone with a pension but someone reduced to extreme poverty.

How does she make her offering? It is translated the same as the other for “put” but it is a different word.  It’s the same word as “let fall” or “shed a tear”.  The same image as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.  The offering flowed out of her hand and dropped quietly into the treasury.

How does that compare to the other – to ballistos?

She gave at the risk of her life – the word is “bios”.  She has no margin.  No safety net.  No backup. This is not a contribution.  It is a total offering.  Nothing held back.

But I’m not sure this is the whole story. I think it is the middle of the story.  To see the whole story we have to read before and after.

I’ve had a couple of discussions this week with people about effective and strategic giving as well as designated and undesignated giving.  If you were her giving consultant, what would you say about her gift?  She gave the whole gift to a corrupt organization to support large overhead, big egos, and the very people who later that week would condemn Jesus to death.  Why would anyone support that organization?  But here is the important distinction for me: She turned loose of all she had anyway and released it completely.  We cannot know everything about those to whom we give.  We cannot protect ourselves from being fooled.  But, it is in the turning loose that the blessing comes.  The command is to give and not to make absolutely certain the gift is used as well as we would like.  When we keep a string on the gift it is not a gift, is it?  It is something less.

But I’m not sure this is the whole story. I think it is the middle of the story. To see the whole story we have to read before and after.  

“As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

I don’t believe she is a random widow.  I think she is one of the widows to whom Jesus referred in these verses.  She has been made poor by the religious leaders.

She is a human example of the effects of the abuse of trust and the corruption of power – both personal and institutional.  Men who are shepherds have become wolves instead.

Ezekiel 34:1-11: 

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.”

They have devoured her house and that is why she has nothing.  She is not just a poor widow.  She is one of many who has been put into poverty by the men she trusted.

Yet, here she is giving all that they left her – two pennies – back to them.  I cannot imagine that…and I wonder if that is also what amazed Jesus.  The scribes were making their noisy gifts from what they had stolen and she is giving all she had left to the very men who had robbed her.  How can that be? This is the real difference between them.  She has freedom they will never understand.  She does not need a reward for what she has done.

An Indian parable reminds me of the widow.

The Diamond

The traveler had reached the

outskirts of the village and settled

down under a tree for the night

when a villager came running up

to him and said, “The stone! The

stone! Give me the precious stone.”

“What stone?” asked the traveler.

“Last night the Lord Shiva appeared

to me in a dream,” said the villager,

“and told me that if I went to the

outskirts of the village at dusk

I should find a traveler who would

give me a precious stone that would

make me rich forever.”

The traveler rummaged in his bag and

pulled out a stone. “He probably

meant this one,” he said, as he handed

the stone over to the villager. “I found

it on a forest path some days ago. You

can certainly have it.”

The man gazed at the stone in wonder.

It was a diamond, probably the largest

diamond in the whole world, for it was

as large as a person’s head.

He took the diamond and walked away.

All night he tossed about in bed,

unable to sleep.  Next day at the

crack of dawn he woke the traveler

and said, “Give me the wealth that

makes it possible for you to give

this diamond away so easily.”

Jesus does not rescue her or make her wealthy because she has been faithful. He could have done any of these things. There is no happy ending for her as we would imagine it. She never even knew he noticed her but as Jesus says in Matthew 6, God sees what is in secret.  Perhaps her reward is the freedom to be able to give it all away.

And the disciples instead of understanding what they have just seen are impressed with the wealth of the Temple.  The lesson does not last very long, does it? 

”As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” 

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

And this is the conclusion of the story.  The fate of any institution that turns itself into a den of thieves and feeds itself at the expense of the poor is, ultimately, to be thrown down.  Its wealth is meaningless because it’s destruction is inevitable.  We have more than enough examples of that and we are going to see more in days to come.  It is God’s judgment on greed.  We have yet to see the end of institutions that will share the same fate as the Temple.

God’s severest judgment is reserved for those who prey on the defenseless, the poor and those who have no advocates.  Perhaps one day the widow will judge those who have defrauded her.

Let me end on a positive note.  Our church has a ministry to widows called Widows in Need.  It is a practical way we can help women with no husbands.  You can volunteer if you want to do that or make a gift to the benevolence fund,  I am pretty sure James the apostle was right when he said, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these <abbr title="HyperText Markup Language">HTML</abbr> tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>