Christian Art | The Poor Widow’s Mite
Mark 12 (Audio Bible KJV, Spoken Word)
38 ¶ And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
39 And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
40 Which devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
41 ¶ And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
In Jerusalem, in the Temple, Jesus continues to teach his disciples, and to correct their understanding of what is truly of value in God’s eyes. The disciples continue to think in very worldly and material ways; they are still the same men who, on the occasion of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, asked the Lord: ‘Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?’ It seemed a lot of money to spend.
Jesus warns the disciples not to look to the Jewish scribes for an example of good living. Not only do they love the grand worldly show they put on, the prestige they enjoy; they are also hypocrites, who take money from widows, devouring their estates, while they pretend to be praying for them – they are pretending really to pray in exchange for cash. The disciples are warned not only that grand worldly possessions and position are hollow; they may furthermore conceal deep corruption, which will become damnation.
Jesus now provides the disciples with a contrast and a paradox. While the scribes are industriously conning widows out of what wealth they possess, here a poor widow comes to the treasury to offer to God all the little she has. Of course, the great wealth cast into the treasury by the rich will be useful, including in terms of works of charity; but here in the person of the poor widow we see such faith and such charity as transcends this and is of a different order of being; she has given to God all she has.
We may recall the Beatitudes:
3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Audio Bible KJV | King James Version | Endnotes
The Poor Widow In The Temple Gives Everything She Has
In Mark 12:38-44, we read about a poor widow who gives everything she has to the Temple treasury. This passage is often called ‘The Widow’s Offering’ or ‘The Poor Widow’s Gift’. The story is short, but it contains a profound message about the nature of giving, faith, and sacrifice.
The passage begins with Jesus criticizing the scribes, who are known for their love of money and their hypocrisy. He observes that they wear long robes, love to be greeted in the marketplace, and occupy the best seats in the synagogue. They also devour widows’ houses and make long prayers for show.
Then Jesus contrasts the scribes’ behavior with that of the poor widow who comes to the Temple treasury. She puts in two mites, which is the smallest coin in circulation at the time. Jesus calls his disciples over and says: ‘Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.’
The poor widow’s gift is significant not because of its monetary value but because of the spirit in which it was given. She gave everything she had, while the scribes gave only a portion of their wealth. Her gift was a true act of faith and sacrifice, while their giving was merely an act of obligation or even hypocrisy – of making a public display of their money given.
Some Christians have interpreted the story of the poor widow’s mite to emphasize the importance of sacrificial giving, while others have used it to criticize the institutional church for exploiting the poor. Let us explore some of these interpretations.
In Church tradition, the story of the poor widow is often used to emphasize the importance of giving to the church. Saint Augustine writes: ‘What does it mean that she put in two mites? It means that she gave everything. Therefore, she was richer in her poverty than those who, though they give much, keep back something for themselves’ (Commentary on the Gospel of John).
Saint Francis of Assisi also emphasized the importance of sacrificial giving, saying: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.’ Saint Francis famously sold all of his possessions and gave the money to the poor, following the example of the poor widow.
In the Protestant tradition, the passage has been used to criticize the institutional church for exploiting the poor. Martin Luther, for example, criticized the sale of indulgences, which were meant to grant forgiveness of sins in exchange for money. He wrote: ‘The rich give large sums of money for indulgences, but the poor cannot give much, and so they are cheated by the priests.’ (95 Theses)
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, emphasized the importance of giving to the poor and the needy. John Wesley said: ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.’
The story of the poor widow has implications for our own lives. It challenges us to examine our own attitudes towards giving and sacrifice. Are we willing to give sacrificially, like the poor widow, or do we give only out of obligation or habit? Are we more concerned with accumulating wealth or with serving others?
The story of the poor widow reminds us that true giving is not about the amount we give but about the spirit in which we give. It is about giving from the heart, out of a sense of love and gratitude for all that we have been given. As the apostle Saint Paul writes, ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Pope Francis has spoken about the story of the poor widow and its implications for our lives as Christians. In a homily given on November 10, 2013, Pope Francis said:
‘The Gospel of this Sunday presents us with the figure of the poor widow who puts two small coins, everything she had, into the treasury of the Temple (cf. Mk 12:41-44). The Lord Jesus, who looked at her with admiration, comments: “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” (Mk 12:43-44)
‘This Gospel passage teaches us the true meaning of God’s love. God loves us not because of what we possess or what we do, but because of who we are, and for no other reason. This love calls us to love others in the same way, to give not out of obligation or duty, but out of a sense of love and compassion for those in need.
‘The poor widow teaches us that true giving is not about the amount we give, but about the spirit in which we give. It is about giving from the heart, out of a sense of love and gratitude for all that we have been given. This is the kind of giving that God desires from us, and it is the kind of giving that will truly make a difference in the world.
‘Let us ask the Lord to give us the grace to be generous in our giving, to give not just from our abundance, but from our poverty, and to give with a spirit of love and compassion for those in need. May we be like the poor widow, who gave everything she had, and may our giving be a true reflection of God’s love for us and for all humanity.’