The story of the widow’s mite is one of those Bible lessons that appear simple on the surface but has layers of meaning for us to unwrap.
What Does the Bible Say About the Widow’s Mite?
The story of the poor widow and her two mites is found in both Mark’s and Luke’s gospel. You may read the full account in Mark 12:42-44 and Luke 21:1-4.
According to the gospel accounts, Jesus was sitting in the Temple near the collection box. Many people came and dropped their offerings. Those who were rich put in large amounts, but this poor widow had only a few mites.
Jesus’ comment to His disciples was that the widow had put in more than the other people. The majority had put in out of their excess but the widow had given all that she had.
Understanding the Context of the Widow’s Mite
Before we can begin to unpack the story of the widow’s mite, let’s look at the surrounding context of the verse. We’ll look at the account in Mark 12.
The chapter begins with the parable of the tenants. Jesus spoke about a landowner who had a beloved vineyard which he had leased to vinedressers. When the time of the harvest came, the vinedressers treated his servants poorly.
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Finally, the man decides to send his son thinking he will get greater respect from the vinedressers, but they kill him instead. The scribes and Pharisees realized that Jesus had told the parable against them and wanted to arrest Him. They couldn’t do anything at that time because they feared the people, so they left Him alone.
But they did not give up. They sent some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in His talk (Mark 12:13). The question they asked was about paying taxes to Caesar.
It may have been that they hoped Jesus would say they shouldn’t pay taxes so they could accuse Him of treason. But Christ was on to them. He told them to give what belongs to Caesar to him and give God what belongs to Him.
The Sadducees were next and they questioned Christ about the resurrection. What would happen if a woman was married multiple times on earth and was resurrected? Whose wife would she be?
Then, they ask Jesus about the greatest commandment and He hints that there’s more to Psalm 110:1 than they realize.
Finally, He tells the people,
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40 ESV).
It’s interesting that after all this, a widow comes into the Temple.
What is the Meaning of the Widow’s Mite?
Let’s dig a little deeper into this story. The Bible tells us that she put two mites, some translations say two small coins, in the collection box. The Greek word translated as mite is leptón, (pronounced lep-ton’) and could also mean something scaled (light), i.e. a small coin, or mite.
The mite was the smallest coin used in New Testament time. At the time of Mark’s writing, a mite was worth 1/64 of a denarius which was a day’s wage for a common worker. Today, the estimated value of a mite is about 1/8 of a cent.
Even in those days, two mites wasn’t a lot of money. But in comparison to those who had gone before her, the poor widow had given everything.
Lesson #1: The attitude of your heart
The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees had shown by their actions that they’re hearts were in the wrong place. They were so focused on following the letter of the Law in great detail, they often missed God’s heart.
Not only that, they expected everyone to interpret and live out the Law in the same way they did. It is from their behavior that we get the word legalism.
According to Merriam-Webster, legalism is the strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code the institutionalized legalism that restricts free choice.
I’m sure if any scribe, Pharisee, or Sadducee had approached the offering box while Jesus sat there, what they had put in would have been exactly what they should have put in according to the Law. But that was the problem.
They cared more about following the Law, or appearing to follow it, than they did treating people with love and respect. They understood how to execute the actions that the Law required, but they didn’t realize that the Law existed because God loved humanity. All humanity. They didn’t get the fact that the Israelites were set apart to show the love of God to the other nations who would then want to serve the true God.
The poor widow understood sacrifice. She loved God enough to give Him all she had. Her heart was in the right place.
Lesson #2: Faith that gives
Jesus watched the people as they made their offering. And yet, it was this poor widow’s offering that was significant to Him.
As a widow, she would have been dependent on the generosity of those landowners who were following the Mosaic Law of Deuteronomy 24:19-21.
Somehow, she came in possession of two mites–an insignificant sum of money. Did she first think of all the things she could purchase with that money? Did she consider hiding it away for a time of greater need? The Bible doesn’t say. What we do know is that her ultimate decision was to bring it to the Temple.
This woman gave all she had, all that she had to live on (Mark 12:44). After those two coins dropped into the box, that was it. There was nothing else. There was no money in the bank. No credit card to use. No stocks or bonds to liquidate. And more than likely, it meant that there was no food for that day unless there was a miracle.
The widow gave, not because she could, but because she wanted to. It was a sacrifice of love similar to that of a man giving his life for a fallen world.
She was financially broken but without saying a word she became the voice of active faith. She didn’t claim God’s promise to provide “someday”. She claimed it immediately by giving away all she had and choosing to believe that God would supply all her needs.
“Take no thought of what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will put on … But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:25,33).”
What Can We Learn from the Widow’s Offering?
As Christians, we’re called to behave and live in a certain manner: not to deceive or pretend we’re better than others, but because we have been set apart for a purpose. Christ calls us to be His witnesses on earth.
He modelled the behavior and the heart God wants from His people so we wouldn’t have to guess what was expected. As children of God, we are called to make our lives living sacrifices to the Father who sent His Son to die in our place.
Jesus saw the poor widow’s sacrifice and He sees yours as well. That’s why we are called to faithfulness. God is more concerned with the state of our hearts when we give than He is with the amount that we offer as a sacrifice. You see, God knows that when our hearts are in the right place, everything else will fall into place.
Personal Bible Study
- Read the story of the Widow’s Mite in Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4.
- Ask the hard question: what does your giving attitude say about you?
- Ask: are your motives for serving God right?
- Pray and ask God for the right attitude when giving.
- Pray that God will purify your heart and make it right with Him.
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