Mark 12:41-44 = The poor widow who gave away everything

This post was originally created on Facebook.

I will, so often as I am able, write up a short exposition of the chosen Scripture from the most recent church service. It will be my way of processing the Word, but I don’t want to keep it to myself.

Mark 12:41-44

And sitting down opposite the contribution box he was watching how the crowds put money into the contribution box. And many rich people were putting in much; and a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which is a quadran. And he called his disciples together and said to them, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than everyone who is putting into the contribution box; for everyone put in from the abundance given to them, but she put in from her poverty everything that she has–her whole life.”

Introduction

Mark 12:41-44 is a chreia, a pronouncement story concerning some event or saying of Jesus. It is anecdotal. This particular chreia is a sayings chreia based on particular circumstances. The saying is the emphasis of the chreia, but the action that precedes the aphorism is important for understanding the saying. The chreia is saying something about Jesus, and we can determine what it is attributing by looking its elements. This particular chreia is presented as an explanation of an action. Jesus sees the actions of the crowds and of the widow, and explains what he sees. Jesus concludes that the widow gave more than everyone else, which is contrary to the fact, since she gave less in monetary value than everyone else. So, what is Jesus saying, and what is the chreia saying about Jesus?

The Setting

The story takes place in the Court of the Women in the Temple in Jerusalem. The collection box, or the temple treasury, was probably one of thirteen receptacles located on the outer walls in the Court of the Women, the outer court of the Temple. These receptacles were collection boxes where a shofar horn would be attached to allow Jews to drop in their coins through the tapered end. They were to allow the priests to examine their offering to ensure the coins were genuine. They were to tell the priests what the purpose of the offering was for, so that the priest could make sure that the offering went into the appropriate receptacle, and bystanders could hear. There were six receptacles for freewill offerings, two for the temple tax, and one for each of the following: sacred vessels; incense; wood; birds; and young birds. These receptacles were for contributions towards the work of the Temple. Benevolent contributions for the poor were separate.

The Situation

Jesus is at the Temple. He sits down in the Court of Women and observes the Jewish crowds giving offerings into the receptacles. He observes rich people putting in lots of money. In stark contrast, he observes a poor widow put in an insignificant amount of money. He brings his disciples together and explains what he sees.

The Aphorism

“Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than everyone who is putting into the contribution box; for everyone put in from the abundance given to them, but she put in from her poverty everything that she has–her whole life.”

Conclusion

In this story, Jesus is saying that those who give even when they lack actually give more than those who give when they have more than enough. The amount, as Jesus sees it, is not what matters. Instead, what matters is one’s manner. Jesus places emphasis on giving sacrificially. According to this story, Jesus is concerned not with quantity but with quality. The quality of one’s giving as he saw it is in giving sacrificially. Giving sacrificially in this context is an act of faith, and it is a statement that declares to God, “I will give at the expense of my own needs and way of life.” Such giving is a surrendering to God in faith that he will provide. Those who are poor are encouraged not to fear or hesitate in giving an offering to God, to his Temple, because He is not concerned with the quantity. Those who are rich are here warned not to believe that their large donations earn them extra value with God. Jesus is not discrediting what the rich give. He is emphasizing the value of the offering given by the poor widow over and above the offerings of the rich. He is not commanding everyone to give everything they have to the offering, but he is emphasizing that what the poor give sacrificially is more valuable in the eyes of God than what the rich give comfortably.

Application

We may not have a Temple to contribute to, but we can make contributions to our local church. The church, which in our contemporary setting is modeled after the Temple, needs funding to operate. Those who are rich and those who are poor can make contributions to the church, no matter how great or how small those contributions may be. What is important to remember is that no contribution is too small in the eyes of God. But here is a word of caution: do not be deceived, a large contribution is not more valuable to God than the smallest contribution. And we can take sacrificial giving a step further, for it need not apply to monetary offerings only. It can apply to time, services, acts, goods, and more. Are we living a life that seeks to please God and to help advance His kingdom through various ways of giving?

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