by Al Maxey

Issue #374 ------- November 16, 2008
It is not the man who has little, but the
man who craves more, that is poor.

Seneca the Younger {5 B.C. - 65 A.D.}

The Widow's Two Mites
A Powerful Portrait of Faith

It was well into that final, fateful week in the earthly life of the Messiah, and it had already been extremely eventful. Jesus had made His triumphal entry into the City of David (Jerusalem) amid the excited cries of the multitudes. He wasted little time in going to the temple and confronting the misguided religious leaders of the people of Israel. He even went so far as to overturn the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those peddling doves, driving them out of the temple with a whip. He then "would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple." They must have thought Him to be a lunatic. When "the chief priests and the scribes heard this, they began seeking how to destroy Him" [Mark 11:18]. The hardened legalists had had enough of this Jesus, and things were quickly coming to a head. They demanded to know the source of His authority --- a question still being asked by legalists today. "By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?" [Mark 11:28]. Jesus turned the tables on them by asking them a question that left them completely dumbfounded, since they realized that no matter how they answered, it would only serve to indict them. This, as one might expect, infuriated them all the more. And then when He directed a very pointed parable at them, "they were seeking to seize Him; and yet they feared the multitude" [Mark 12:12].

Cowards that these legalists were (and still are), they sent someone else (even more radical than they) to do their dirty work. "And they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Him, in order to trap Him in a statement" [Mark 12:13]. Unable to engage our Lord in an open and honest debate about God's Truth, they sought rather to use the tactics of trickery and deceit so as to try and trip Him up in some statement they could then twist and turn to their own nefarious ends. Things truly have not changed much in 2000 years, have they?! These godless tactics are still being employed by the rigid religionists today against those proclaiming freedom in Christ Jesus. Well, these individuals were no more successful against our Savior than the ones who had sent them. So, some Sadducees came and confronted Jesus. Then a scribe, "who heard them arguing" [Mark 12:28], had some questions of his own for Jesus. All the while, the multitudes were actually enjoying listening to Jesus take on these various sectarian leaders [Mark 12:37]. Finally, however, Jesus Christ walked away and "sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury" [Mark 12:41].

Several biblical scholars believe that Jesus may simply have "had His fill" of these vicious legalists with their deep bag of hateful tricks and traps, and simply sought a place of relative solitude for a time where He could be free of them. Yes, even the Son of God can only take so much of these people!! "Weary with the contention, the Master had left those to whom He had spoken in the Porches, and, while the crowd wrangled about His Words or His Person, had ascended the flight of steps which led from 'The Terrace' into the Temple-building. On these steps He sat down, watching the multitude" [Dr. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, part 2, book 5, chapter 3, p. 387]. Here Jesus found relief "from the bitter malice of His enemies ... the cavils of the Sadducees and the gainsaying of the Scribes" [ibid]. Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann concurs completely with this assessment -- "Jesus, being weary of His labors of teaching and arguing all day, sat down near these collection boxes" [Popular Commentary of the Bible, The NT: vol. 1, p. 234]. "The Master was sitting -- resting, probably, after the effort of the great denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, Luke, part 2, p. 182].

Our Lord's actual location at this particular time was "opposite the treasury" [Mark 12:41, NASB]. The KJV reads, "Jesus sat over against the treasury," while the NIV states, "Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put." Jesus had departed the Court of the Gentiles, and all the debate that had taken place there, and had now "passed within the low marble wall which fenced off the inner precinct of the Temple from the Gentiles. He was now in the Court of the Women. Here were thirteen chests placed at intervals around the walls of the court, each marked with the purpose to which the offerings were to be devoted. This colonnade under which these chests were placed was called The Treasury" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, Mark, p. 242]. Bible "commentators are agreed in thinking that the reference is to the treasury in the Court of the Women, consisting of thirteen brazen trumpet-shaped receptacles" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 427]. "The setting is the Court of the Women, into which both men and women were allowed to come, and where the temple treasury was located. Jesus sat down on a bench where He could watch the people bring their offerings and put them in one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped boxes that were used for that purpose" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 740].

"This was the last occurrence in the public ministry of Jesus Christ, except for the trial and crucifixion; this is His last appearance in the temple" [Bro. H. Leo Boles, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Luke, p. 391]. His accusers were gone, the crowds had dissipated, and "even His disciples were at some distance as Jesus sat alone by the treasury" [ibid]. It was a moment of solitude and reflection as He prepared for what lay ahead. "After this incident (the last in His public ministry), Jesus Christ spends His time exclusively with the disciples" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 740]. Prior to taking His place "opposite the treasury," Jesus had strongly condemned the legalistic elitists for their countless acts of arrogance and avarice [Mark 12:38-40]. He especially condemned them for "devouring widows' houses" [vs. 40]. How fitting, therefore, that His public ministry in the temple should end with a poor, nameless widow who, in a singular act of trusting sacrifice, indicted more powerfully than any sermon all the shameful actions and attitudes of the legalistic leaders of the Jews. In a most dramatic way, her selfless act provided the exclamation point to our Lord's teaching in the temple that day! "The connection between this passage and the preceding one is that both refer to widows: one, how teachers of Law victimized them (Luke 20:47); the other, how a poor widow set an example of acceptable giving (Luke 21:1-4)" [ibid, p. 1018]. "This charming story comes in with dramatic effect, after the repulsive picture of the greedy praying scribe" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 1, p. 427].

As our Lord Jesus Christ sat there that day "opposite the treasury," we are informed by Mark in his gospel record that He was "observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury" [Mark 12:41, NASB]. The word translated "observe" here in this text is the Greek word "theoreo," which means "to contemplate, consider, gaze upon with great interest and attention." It appears as an Imperfect Active Indicative, which simply signifies that our Lord was at that time engaged in a continuing process of intently contemplating all those individuals who were placing their offerings into the temple treasury. The Expositor's Greek Testament characterizes Him as "a close and keen observer of all that went on" [p. 427]. I have a strong feeling that very little of what transpired in the temple, if anything at all, escaped His notice. In fact, right after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we are told that Jesus "came into the temple, and after looking all around, He departed for Bethany with the Twelve" [Mark 11:11]. Dr. Wuest, in his Word Studies from the Greek NT, states this word indicates that the Savior "sat down and looked with a discerning eye" [p. 242]. Thus, Jesus did far more than merely note the fact that many were placing their offerings in the receptacles. In the words of Mark, the Son of God was observing HOW the multitude put their offerings into the treasury of the temple --- "that is, in what manner, with what motives, for He was the heart-searcher" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, Mark, p. 158]. Those contributors that day were most likely unaware they were being closely observed by the Lord, just as many today are equally oblivious to His scrutiny of their hearts and motives. One can only imagine the change in giving habits that might result if God's people were only more aware that there is One who sits and observes how we give!!

As Jesus observed the multitudes "putting money into the treasury," He witnessed the fact that "many rich people were putting in large sums" [Mark 12:41]. To the casual observer, and judging simply by outward appearance, it might easily be surmised that these large contributors to the temple treasury were the most righteous members of the Jewish community. After all, from a purely human perspective, and with respect to monetary giving, "size matters!" The greater the gift, the greater the giver ... or so we often reason. The nature of the gift itself, however, is not always a true indicator of the nature of the heart of the giver. And it is the heart with which our Lord is ultimately concerned, not so much that which is given. I discussed this principle in some depth in my article titled Offering A Better Sacrifice -- Reflections #275 (dated Nov. 16, 2006) -- which is a study of the offerings of Cain and Abel, and why the latter's gift was deemed acceptable, and the former's gift was not. That principle certainly applies in the present study as well.

Although Mark points out that "many" rich people were putting rather large amounts of money into the treasury, these were not the ones that caught the attention of our Lord that day. Instead, it was a poor widow woman who gave next to nothing. "And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent" [Mark 12:42, NASB]. "And He saw a certain poor widow putting in two small copper coins" [Luke 21:2, NASB]. "And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing" [Mark 12:42, KJV]. "But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny" [Mark 12:42, NIV]. The Greek word employed by both Luke and Mark for the coins given by this poor widow is "lepta" (the plural of lepton), a word meaning "thin, small." The "lepton" (called a "mite" in the KJV, from the French "miete" = a crumb, small morsel) was the smallest coin then in circulation in Palestine. This, by the way, is "the only Jewish coin mentioned in the NT, and it was worth one sixty-fourth of a denarius, the daily wage of a laborer" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 741]. A single "lepton" was such an insignificant amount that "a Rabbinic rule prohibited the offering of a single lepton" [Wuest, p. 242]. "It should be known that it was not lawful to contribute a less amount" than two of these coins [Edersheim, p. 388]. Even two of these coins together were so paltry a sum that they were insufficient to buy a piece of bread to eat. And yet we are told that this was "all she owned, all she had to live on" [Mark 12:44; cf. Luke 21:4].

Luke and Mark both describe this widow as being "poor," but they use two different words to convey her true condition. Luke uses the Greek word "penichros," which signifies one who is poor and needy; one who labors just to survive day by day. We often speak of one who never knows where or when they will receive their next pay check or find their next meal. Such was the condition of this poor widow. She survived on what little she could earn each day, which apparently was not much. Mark paints an even grimmer portrait of her condition, characterizing her as "ptochos" = one who is indigent, destitute, reduced to begging for survival. Perhaps she worked the occasional odd job, when she could find one, and resorted to begging when work was not available. It was a daily struggle for existence. What an indictment against the rich contributors who "put in out of their surplus, while she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on" [Mark 12:44]. The gifts of the rich, though large and seemingly impressive (at least to men), would never be missed -- they came from out of their surplus, their abundance. Therefore, that which they gave was not truly a sacrifice, even though the gift itself would certainly be used to accomplish great good for others in need. "But how different the gift of the widow! She had, out of the depth of her want, in her destitute state, given all that she possessed, her whole means of living; she had sacrificed the last necessities of life to the Lord, and apparently out of a heart filled with free love for the God of Israel" [Dr. Kretzmann, p. 234].

Our Lord was so deeply moved by what He was witnessing that He "called His disciples to Him, saying, 'Truly I say unto you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury'" [Mark 12:43; Luke 21:3]. He did not want this lesson in sacrificial giving and unwavering trust in the providential care of God to be lost on His disciples. They needed to see this ... as do we!! He had taught His disciples to pray, trusting, "Our Father who art in heaven ... give us this day our daily bread" [Matt. 6:11]. Here, being acted out right before their wondering eyes, was this marvelous disciple's prayer clothed in human form! She could give all that she had for the simple reason that she trusted Him who possessed all things, and she knew that He would provide for her needs. Here was a woman who understood the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34 -- she was living it. When you have given yourself to the Lord, all other giving simply flows naturally from the heart. This is seen again in the saints of Macedonia as they gave to assist those less fortunate than themselves --- "In a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God" [2 Cor. 8:2-5]. When you've already given yourself, no other sacrifice is too great!!

What is a true measure of one's giving? The size of the gift, or the size of the heart of the giver? I believe our Lord would have us to perceive that it is the latter. This woman was said to have given more than all the other contributors into the treasury that day. Clearly it was not the size of her gift that earned her this tribute. "For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have" [2 Cor. 8:12]. In other words, it is all about the heart of the giver. Here was a woman who gave out of the overflow of her heart, rather than from the overflow of her purse. "Devotion like hers could not escape Jesus' notice. Her sacrifice appealed to Him, and He preserved her story in the safekeeping of His praise. That devotion, beginning there and spreading throughout the world, has built hospitals and helped the needy, fed the hungry and encouraged the imprisoned. Today the world knows much more about the poor widow than about the richest man in Jerusalem in her day!" [Edith Deen, All the Women of the Bible, p. 353].

"The lesson is brought home to our hearts that in the final analysis, God wants not what we have, but He wants us -- our hearts" [Wuest, p. 243]. The judgment of our Lord Jesus regarding the contributors to the treasury that day in the temple "shows that works of charity should be estimated not by their appearance, but by the spirit which produces them" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 331]. Brother H. Leo Boles wrote, "Of their abundance they contributed a little, but of her meager and scant supply, she gave all. Hers was a real self-denial; she felt what she gave; in love she devoted all to God, and trusted in His providential care" [p. 391]. "Our Lord measured the merit of her liberality not by the amount she gave, but by the self-denial which the gift involved" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 16, p. 196]. "It is the heart which determines the character of our liberality. It is not the quantity of money, but the quality of the act, which is truly important. A farthing from a widow is much more in the sight of God than thousands from a millionaire" [ibid, p. 182]. Maybe St. Bernard (1090-1153) summed it up best when he wrote, "Lord, I have but two mites, a body and a soul; I give them both to Thee!"

We'll never know the identity of this destitute widow, nor will we ever know what became of her after that brief glimpse of her in the temple treasury. Did she ever accept Christ Jesus as the Messiah? Was she ever elevated from out of her destitution? We'll never know. However, a faith and trust in God such as she evidenced that day will certainly serve her well as she one day stands before the One for whom she demonstrated such deep and abiding love. I would like to believe that I will one day have the privilege to visit with this woman around the throne of our Father. What a joy that will be, for she has brought encouragement to countless millions over the centuries, even though she was completely unaware that her selfless act of devotion was being observed. Most likely this widow would be embarrassed by her universal fame and praise. Nevertheless, "the presence of this poor widow, among unspiritual and ostentatious worshippers and offerers, is as a sunbeam amidst the gloom" [The Pulpit Commentary, p. 167]. Thank God for the enduring example of such precious, unpretentious saints!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Barbados, Caribbean Islands:

Dear Brother Al, As usual, I follow your Reflections with much eagerness. I like your balance and your patience, qualities I believe you have developed over time in your walk with Christ. I also believe that you're honest and full of humility and care not to divide the glory between the Lord and yourself. You always appear to give the Lord Christ all the glory. It is a pity, however, that one of your readers, and clearly an ardent supporter, did not follow your example. I make reference to the reader from Washington whose comments appeared in the readers' section of your last issue of Reflections. There's no doubt he was hurt and infuriated by the apparent assault upon your Christian character and your service in the military. However, as Christians, we must, like you have done constantly, take the high road even when persons attempt to sully our name and imply other than gracious motives to our character and our dealings. In my humble opinion, the language used to convey his anger was very unchristian, to say the least. I trust that, as this brother reads this, he will take a leaf from your book and express his feelings in a manner that keeps the door open to reconciliation, even if others appear to have closed it. In the final analysis, what ultimately matters is our Christian witness, especially to those who appear to be short of the mark. May God continue to richly bless you and yours as you champion His cause and purpose!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, You mentioned that the Maxey-Broking Debate has resulted in the departure of several readers from congregations with a "Contending for the Faith" (ultra-legalistic, patternistic) mindset. It seems to me that even if one did not take note of a single argument within the debate, nevertheless the nasty, vindictive arrogance of Darrell Broking and his cronies would be so utterly repulsive to their own members that they would see that this is NOT God's movement, and thus they would be constrained to go elsewhere!! I really, truly believe that disciples who have godly spirits will NOT stay with that bunch. On the other hand, too many of their members seem to have the exact same unloving, cantankerous spirit as their leaders. In those cases, it is just as well that these people remain with their own ilk, instead of messing up other congregations!!

From a Reader in Montana:

Dear Brother Al, I've come out of a fairly patternistic/legalistic branch of the Church of Christ. I have been blessed many times by the content of your Reflections articles. They have helped me to recognize the danger my faith was in while I was slowly withering on the vine in this patternistic/legalistic branch of the church. My wife and I got out from under all that about a year ago (after being in it for 20+ years), and we've been coming back to life now that we are in a new fellowship full of people who truly want to "BE the church" and serve Him. I appreciate your time and your efforts, brother. Again ... THANKS!!

From a Missionary in Honduras:

Brother Al, A week ago I worshipped with the church in Los Piņos, a community that is near Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The church was planted five years ago and it is very strong and rapidly growing. During Communion I noticed that they are no longer using grape juice. Instead, they are using wine. That made me wonder how the "pattern" folks justify the change from using the same thing that Jesus and the apostles used to the use of grape juice. Would these patternists condemn the use of wine? Thanks for all the work you do, Al. Working in Honduras, I am amazed at how the USA church continues to try and "make the rules" down here. I met some missionaries just last week who believe that we need to question people that want to become Christians about their previous marriages before they can be baptized. They tell people that they cannot become a Christian unless they're willing to leave their wife and children to return to their first wife. When did Jesus ever tell people that they had to make their children fatherless to become a Christian? I'm amazed that these people claim Jesus as the Lord of all, and yet they appoint themselves the judge of who can and can't be a follower of Jesus.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, Excellent response to the "Sinner's Prayer" question in your last Reflections article. It's a very valid question that we Stone-Campbell types have been forced to face and with which we have been forced to struggle. Once again, our minds are on the same track on this matter. Some time ago it dawned on me that it is entirely God's business to decide when salvation takes place, not mine. He can save any one He wants to, any time He wants to ... and He doesn't even need to ask if it's okay with me. Perhaps we've spent too much time squabbling about the ingredients of the recipe, and too little time rejoicing over what comes out of the oven! Thanks for dealing with this question so transparently.

From an Elder in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, I could not agree more with your position on "The Sinner's Prayer." Our body of elders here have discussed this very issue, and there seems to be a strong consensus that one's correct perception of the meaning of baptism does not invalidate that baptism. It is dangerous to take the untenable position that a correct and complete understanding of any doctrine is necessary in order for one to benefit from that doctrine. I believe baptism is necessary and commanded by our Lord, but I have no trouble fellowshipping with Christians who accept baptism, but who do not agree with me on the details of its significance. Blessings to you, brother, as you continue to dialogue with our brethren!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Brother Al, I must confess to you that I do not always read all of your "missives" all the way through. You know how it is -- busy, busy, don't have time, etc. This one, however, I did. I think that you are "right on" in your thinking on the "Sinner's Prayer."

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Bro. Al, Your study of "The Sinner's Prayer" was excellent. Another fine job, as always, in your research. We all love studying along with you in your Reflections articles. May God continue to bless you in your ministry of providing knowledge to the unenlightened.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, It's interesting how one can find a specific instruction in an article written for a different purpose. Your comments pertaining to rebaptism (in your article on "The Sinner's Prayer") were very helpful to me. When my late wife converted me from the Baptist Church and taught me that I would need to be rebaptized "for the remission of sins," I was ... but with some doubts. I silently prayed to God that I was doing the right thing. Now that you have shown me that one does not need a complete knowledge of all matters related to one's baptism, I can rest assured. And, by the way, I found your entire article helpful with respect to the subject of the "Sinner's Prayer." I almost always find something in your Reflections to help me in walking in the light.

From a Minister in Florida:

Right on, Brother Al. I really enjoyed your recent article on "The Sinner's Prayer." To the minister in Kentucky who took his youth to the event at the First Baptist Church -- Way To Go! I am glad to see participation with other denominations like that. If we are to teach others, we cannot close ourselves off from them. Work with them to bring about change!

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Bro. Al, I have long been distressed by the tendency today to factionalize and sectarianize the Lord's Body. For too long I have suffered the divisive sectarians quietly. But now I am devouring your Reflections, and I am gaining new boldness to speak out against their arrogant assumptions and hermeneutical hubris. You are helping to clarify my convictions that have long subsisted within the subterranean cells of my psyche. Thank you for helping these convictions to surface with greater clarity than ever!!

From an Elder in Connecticut:

Dear Bro. Al, I don't think I have told you, or at least I haven't told you often enough, how much I appreciate you!! You are wrestling with so many of the very real issues within our lives as we all struggle to get from here to eternity, and you have the courage to write about these things in the climate in which we live and serve. I pray the Father will continue to bless you with wisdom and insight, as well as keeping you true to the mission you have taken on.

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