Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The widow who gave all

Today, we're going to look again at the widow who gave two mites, tiny coins, in the treasury of the temple, as Jesus observed the people. 
The widow would have made her way through the temple grounds, which probably still resembled a bazaar, with the haggling of vendors and the noises of the animals.  Travelers who journeyed there from far away would need to exchange their money so that they could pay the temple tax - every Jewish male over twenty was required to pay.  It was also required that it be paid in Jewish or Tyrian coins, because of the purity of the silver content in those. And the money changers charged a high fee for the service. These travelers would also need to purchase animals for their sacrifices; it would be difficult to bring animals all that way. Those animals were sold for premium prices, too. All of this led to the religious leaders and priests living lavish lifestyles, while the average Jew scrabbled to make ends meet. What had started as a service to worshipers had devolved into a very corrupt system.

All of this would have drowned out the sounds of heartfelt praises and adoration. And it was not a secret. It was widely known. You see, the temple tax was mandatory. Yup. You do it or else. And it was especially hard on the poor, who were often forced to sell their land, or worse -- sell their children into slavery to pay the tax. And no one was more vulnerable than the widows. They had no rights, because they didn't have a man to go to court for them.
Yet the widow still brought her offering. 
Two mites.
What are mites?
We know from Mark's gospel that they are "lepta," Greek coins that were made from copper, and worth less than a penny. Israelites typically used the coins of the nation that ruled over them, but they also had their own system of currency, which we see mentioned in the Word: shekels.
So mites are even smaller (in value) than shekels . . . she didn't have much, did she? Yet Jesus said that she put in "everything, all she had to live on."  Perhaps as he watched the widow, He thought of His own death, which would happen in just a few days. On the cross, He would give everything, all He had to live on.
The widow gave for the temple. And you and I and other Christians are the temple for which Jesus gave His life. The temple of stone was understood to be the place where God dwelt -- for Jesus, we are the new temple, the place where God dwells.  The old temple, built by horrible Herod and his descendants, was far from perfect; we are far from perfect, too.

That temple that the widow gave her mites to was supposed to be a place of justice and generosity; it was supposed to be a place where strangers and the poor were welcome. It fell way short of what it was supposed to be, didn't it? But don't we, too? We are sinful, spiteful, vengeful humans. But Jesus loves us so much that God gives everything, in spite of ourselves. Just like the widow, who knew the ancient temple for what it was and gave anyway, Jesus loves us and gave everything for us.

We also see in this passage that God truly cares about how we give. In Mark, it says Jesus saw "how the people put the money into the treasury." That word is translated "in what way." With a sad face? With reluctance?
The attitude of our hearts will make all the difference. Paul tells us:

                       So let each one give as he has purposed in his heart, not
                       grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful
                       giver. (II Corinthians 9:7)

Even though Jesus' words make it sound like she would have nothing more to buy food with, she gave cheerfully, sacrificially. The others might not miss what they gave, but she sure would.
How we give is even more important than how much . . . let's think on that and finish up tomorrow. 

1 comment:

Austin Towers said...

Such a good study, Jacque! Despite everything, the widow gave and gave willingly. Our heart attitude is more important than any public show of piety! A very good thing to remember! Hugs, Caro x