We continue our series on the women of the Gospels (now on Saturdays) with a guest post from the delightful Laura Turner. A graduate of Westmont College, Laura lives in LA with her husband Zack. She is pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction writing at Seattle Pacific University, and is passionate about Church life. Laura is a fantastic writer, with a background in publishing, so I recommend subscribing to her blog sooner rather than later. You can also follow her Twitter. Enjoy!
"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
- Mark 12:41-43
“Spend it all. Shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Annie Dillard is writing about writing here—about the tendency writers have to hoard clever words for a rainy day when we might need them—but ever since I first read this bit, I cannot help but hear an echo of the story of the widow’s mite in Mark 12.
We enter the scene with Jesus and his disciples in the treasury, the place where religious people gathered from far and wide to make their donations to the temple. The treasury was in the inner part of the temple, and the coffers placed around the room were shaped like trumpets, each with a different purpose for contribution. According to tradition, some of the trumpets received sin-offerings of burnt pigeons and turtledoves, some for contributions for incense, and some for general, voluntary offerings. (I kind of wish it was still encouraged to burn pigeons for sacrifice. Stupid animals.)
“Many rich people threw in large amounts.” But this story is not the story of many people. This is not the story of large amounts of money, or of someone doing something flashy and noticeable. This story is about one of the least noticeable things in the entire New Testament. There are no angels winging around the throne of God; no demons being cast out into a flock of pigs or man being lowered down from a roof to receive healing. There is this woman – this small, unnoticed, uncared-for woman who hardly counted as a person in her society. And there were two coins.
‘Mite’ is not the actual name for what the coin was. It was a term in use when the King James Bible was being translated in the early 17th century, and it was the equivalent of a few minutes’ work. ‘Lepton’ would have been the word used for the smallest copper coin in Israel at the time; this is the story of the widow’s leptons. And this story was probably going unnoticed for years.
We don’t know how long the widow had been going to the treasury with her two coins, but we can assume that when her husband was alive, she would have had more. Not much more, necessarily, but she would have had resources to live on. Poor and without resources or power, she came to the temple and walked among the crowd who gave a lot of money mostly to increase their sense of stature in the community. And she came with the most meager of amounts to drop in the trumpet, and she did not draw attention to herself as she gave, but her story lives on as one of the most powerful examples of generosity and radical trust that we know.
Because Jesus saw the treasury then, and he sees it still today. Jesus knew this simple truth: How we behave in the treasury is a direct reflection of the internal reality of our heart. This woman was a hero of our faith. This act of giving was not foolish and was not undertaken lightheartedly. She gave all that she had because there was no other way for her to give, so convinced was she of God’s faithfulness to her and his character. There is a beauty and strength to his care for us that goes far beyond our comprehension, but still we can absorb it and be transformed by it.
Where am I giving from, and what am I holding back? Am I giving from abundance? And if so, why I am I holding on to so much when I know that everything I hold back from God is exactly what separates me from him? All of these people, these rich people giving large amounts of money, they were all holding something back in their abundance. The blessed life is the life of the widow, the life of she who gives, and she who trusts.
Hold nothing back, and everything is yours.