The Widow’s Mites

The Lesson of the Widow’s Mites  (Mark 12:42-44; Luke 21:1-4) is a moment in the Gospels that, for all its simplicity, is difficult to interpret. While Jesus and his followers are resting in the Temple precincts, a widow comes and contributes two small coins to the Treasury (these coins were the least valuable then in circulation). Jesus tells his followers that because she has given away all the money that remained to her, she has given more than any other person, no matter how wealthy.

An affecting scene, certainly, but then the problems start to pile up. How does Jesus know that these were the last coins she possessed? What of the ironic parallel to Leviticus 12:8, which commands new mothers to sacrifice two turtledoves in thanks to God? And, above all, what of the story’s effect on women? Does it make sense for them to surrender their last worldly goods, especially if they are widows and, if young, as likely as not with children?

What has been left out in this story is the central element of Jesus’s teaching about poverty–his followers must give up all their money if they are to follow him. Complete trust is necessary if one is to enter the Kingdom of God. From this perspective, in exchange for giving up a pittance, the woman is gaining God’s salvation–and the protection available to her as a member of Jesus’s community.

Here, then, is the episode in the KJV, followed by my reconstruction:


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.

 42And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

 43And 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:

 44For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

RT’s reconstruction

A widow appeared and added two insignificant coins to the Treasury. Jesus called his disciples and said, “In truth I say, this woman has given more than all those who have contributed to the Treasury. And because she has given all she had, all her wealth, she has entered the Kingdom of God.” And the woman became one of Jesus’s followers.



Image: The Poor Widow’s Offering; Frederick Goodall; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

  1. toomanythorns
    October 28, 2011 at 12:54 am

    Interesting take on that story…

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