Key Text: Mark 12:38-44 & Luke 21:1-4
Jesus didn’t like Scribes, because of what they loved, rather than what they were. Their love for beautiful clothing, public greetings and the best seats in assemblies, made them commit two crimes, oppress the poor and pray hypocritically. The Talmud gives evidence of the “plundering of widows” (Sota Hieros. F.20.I, Schoettg. I. 199). In the days of Jesus, the details are vague, but we can safely assume that Scribes & Pharisees often accepted gifts from widows, in exchange for making or ruling decisions which determined which widows would get references for help from rich philanthropists like Fulvia & Helene, who paid huge sums of money for fines placed on faithful Jews who would not ascribe allegiance to Caesar. (Josephus’ Antiquities xvii.2.4, xviii.3.5, xx.2.5).
If a widow wanted to survive, she often had to proclaim allegiance to Caesar in order to trade her meager means for food, but if she remained loyal to the Lord God of Israel, she wouldn’t be accepted, hired or helped benevolently. But if a widow gave a gift to an influential Scribe who could refer her to a rich philanthropist like Fulvia and/or Helene, she could survive, MAYBE. It was a gamble, and often the widows lost. Scribes also worked as lawyers, and could overcharge widows to handle the execution of their husbands’ wills. This could leave the widows almost penniless. Scribes could tell the widows, if you give me a gift, I’ll pray for you and give your name to a rich person. But what if the Scribe didn’t do it? Would the widow be any better off? Jesus did a lot of teaching in the court of women in front of the Temple. The woman taken in adultery was brought there, Jn. 8, and Jesus wrote in the dirt there. He now has his disciples there just a few days before his crucifixion. This court of the women was placed after or beyond the area Gentile proselytes were allowed into. In the court of the women, there were actually thirteen metal boxes shaped like inverted trumpets, large at the bottom and narrow at the top where money was deposited. The origin of the boxes, might be in the story of Jehoiada’s chest (2Kg. 12:4-16), wherein v13 tells of a segregation in purpose of the money dedicated. In the days of Jesus the metal trumpet-shaped boxes would have different purposes, some for maintaining the Temple, some for alms, lepers, and some for growing sacrifices. The contents held differing gifts, some gold, some frankincense, some copper, and etc.,.
Jesus was “sitting opposite the treasury and observed how the people were putting money in”, Mk. 12:41. The Ethiopic and Arabic versions mention Jesus sitting near the gate, opposite the boxes. Today the Spirit of Christ observes our giving. What is He looking for? Quality of faith in the power of God to provide for our necessities. God wants to grow in us a faith in his power to provide. Do we believe we are providing for ourselves, or that our God in Christ is providing for us? When Jesus saw a poor widow come and put in two very small brass, copper coins (mites) worth only pennies. He called his disciples attention to it. This reveals the purpose for Christ looking into our giving. He wants to see the quality, not the quantity. Greeks called the mites, “Leptons” they were Grecian coins and were the “thinnest” of coins. Jewish custom at that time forbade anyone to cast in less than two gifts. Today in the church in India, many Christians give food as well as coins into the Lord’s treasury on Sunday. The poor widow gave the smallest legal gift possible.
For us to give the equivalent of the widow’s mites we must give to the extent of knowing we have nothing left for the future, but to depend on God for it. How is this possible? What was Jesus teaching his disciples? He was teaching us what great faith that pleases God actually is. Obedience is better than sacrifices. Why? Because when the widow was left for the future but two mites, she still obeyed. Sometimes obedience is easy and sometimes it is not. But faith is the victory, 1Jn. 5:4. If we have faith in our giving, it will be liberal, 2Cor. 8:1-7, cheerful, 2Cor. 9:7 and from our prosperity 1Cor. 16:2.