The Widow With the Two Mites, Luke 21. 1–4

It is always interesting and instructive when reading the synoptic Gospels to note the details recorded by one or maybe two of the writers but omitted by others. The brief incident which occupies our attention in this article is recorded by Mark and Luke, but not by Matthew. I find this particularly interesting, because it was costly for Matthew to follow the Saviour. The day he ‘left all, rose up, and followed him’, Luke 5. 28, meant that he abandoned everything associated with his former, no doubt lucrative, employment, and there was no going back. Peter and other disciples could leave their boats but still use them if occasion required. Matthew had effectively ‘burnt his boats’! Maybe it is in view of this that Matthew will often take time to record what it cost others to show their appreciation of the Saviour. At His coming in, it is Matthew alone who tells us of the wise men and their costly gifts. At His going out, only Matthew tells us that Joseph was a rich man who gave ‘his own new tomb’. It is noticeable too that Matthew does not lightly pass up any opportunity to take account of monetary matters in his Gospel. Only Matthew speaks of gold and silver (Luke’s mention of the coins in chapter 15 is a different word). Only Matthew writes of talents, a large sum of money, and only Matthew takes time to record the coin in the fish’s mouth or the thirty pieces of silver in Judas’ hand.

But Matthew’s burden is the nation, and he is contemplating and recording the progressive rejection of Messiah. So, at the end of chapter 23, where this brief incident would fit in, instead of the sound of offerings being cast into the treasury, we hear the broken-hearted lament of the Saviour, ‘O Jerusalem … how often would I have gathered thy children together … and ye would not’. As chapter 24 opens, we read, ‘Jesus went out, and departed from the temple’, a truly seminal moment in His pathway to Golgotha, and Ichabod was written large over the nation of Israel.

Now, why does Mark in his busy Gospel take time to record this detail? We know that Mark is directed by the Spirit of God to view the Lord Jesus as the perfect Servant. But, in so doing, he will draw our attention to the service of others, whether it be John the Baptist, disciples on the seashore or others in the Gospel, thus providing a rewarding study. In Mark’s record of the widow, he tells us that the Lord sat and beheld, not so much what the people cast into the treasury, but ‘how‘, Mark 12. 41; it is the motive that controlled the giving which interested Him. Remember, He is the constant observer of our service. He still sits by the treasury and takes notice of our giving, whether of our time, our ability, or our material things. He sees both the measure and the motive. Someone has said, ‘It is not a question of how much of what is mine will I give to the Lord?

Rather how much of what is His will I keep for myself?’ Remember, Paul posed the question to the Corinthians, ‘What hast thou that thou didst not receive?’ 1 Cor. 4. 7. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with wealth, nor is there any particular virtue in poverty; it is a question of what we do with that which He has given us. The Scottish poet and hymnwriter J. G. Small wrote, ‘Naught that I have my own I call, I hold it for the Giver. My heart, my strength, my life, my all, are His and His forever’. Those are very big words!

Luke will remind us in his Gospel that although the nation at large did not welcome the Lord Jesus, there was nevertheless a remnant, a faithful few, many of them women, who both recognized and accepted Him. Others, like the widow in the temple, maybe never met the Saviour or heard His teaching. But their hearts were right and their faithfulness far exceeded the ostentatious and hypocritical piety of the Pharisees. So, Luke will take time to place on record that fleeting moment, observed perhaps alone by the Lord Jesus, when as G. Campbell Morgan wrote, ‘A nameless, husbandless, penniless widow, invested a large deposit on the balance sheet of heaven’.1

Having entered the city in fulfilment of Zechariah chapter 9 verse 9, the Saviour is found each day of the week leading up to the Passover teaching in the temple. The people came to hear Him, ‘early in the morning’, Luke 21. 38. Patiently He taught them, then, as day drew to a close, He ‘went out, and abode in … the mount of Olives’, v. 37. It was during this time that others came, not to benefit from His teaching, but to ‘take hold of his words’ and accuse Him. Matthew tells us it was the Herodians who came with their politically charged question about the tribute money. The Sadducees followed with a cynically fabricated story of seven brothers. Finally, came a lawyer who likewise failed to land a telling blow.

We can well imagine the disappointment of the Saviour as he ‘looked up’ and saw His erstwhile adversaries moving away from the group which surrounded Him, to ostentatiously cast their offerings into the temple treasury. Mark says, they ‘cast in much’, doubtless with significant flair to ensure as much noise as possible. The Lord would say of such, ‘They have their reward’, Matt. 6. 2; they will enjoy the praise of men. But, suddenly, like a shaft of light, another catches His attention. She comes in silently. Swiftly she passes the open receptacles and with barely a movement of her hand, she is gone. Unnoticed by the throng but observed in every detail by the all-seeing eye of the Master.

Luke will tell us that the Lord Jesus ‘saw the rich men’, but ‘he saw also a certain poor widow’, and it is her reduced circumstances which hold His attention. Poverty is a relative term and Luke uses a word which would show this woman to be conspicuously poor, but not one who would beg for a living. It may be that when her husband was alive, they managed comfortably. Now, he was gone, but she retained her dignity and self-esteem in living her life as well as she was able. That meant regular visits to the temple, the house of God, upon whom she now depended for her support.

On this particular day she had some big decisions to make. Events had effectively reduced the few coins she had left to insignificance, and today she would normally go to the temple. She considered her options. She could forego her temple visit today, no one would know, and who would blame her anyway? The two mites which she held in her open palm were worth a tiny fraction of the penny shown to the Lord Jesus in chapter 20 verse 24. Mark tells us that the two coins together made a farthing, and Matthew records that such a sum would only purchase two sparrows, Matt 10. 29. But there was another option open to her. She could go to the temple, give one of the mites and keep the other in the hope that she might be able to purchase something. That amounts to giving on a grand scale, 50% of everything she had! Maybe many of us should hang our heads in shame as we consider such a sacrifice. But no, she will choose the third option; she resolves to give both mites to her Lord and cast herself wholly upon Him. So, she leaves her humble little home and, upright and determined, she makes her way to the house of God.

The value of her gift would, in the eyes of men, be virtually worthless. To those ‘rich men’, it could be swept up with the dust on the floor. But the Lord weighed it in the balance of the sanctuary, which elevated its worth in comparison to that given by the rich men as ‘more than they all’.

The temple treasury, we are told, had thirteen receptacles for individuals to give an offering. The money accumulated was allocated for three purposes: for the maintenance of the temple, for the support of the priests, and for the poor- in other words, material, spiritual, and charitable. In chapter 20, the Lord had defeated the challenge regarding the tribute money with, ‘Render [give back] … unto God the things which be God’s’. The widow loved the habitation of God and will give whatever she can to maintain it. The Sadducees’ questioning of the woman widowed seven times had a spiritual element (though hypocritical on their part). The Lord in reply lifts their minds away from the earthly to the heavenly. The widow gave with heaven in view; her gift had value there. The lawyer then followed in Mark’s record desiring to know, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’, a question which, academically, was much debated during the Lord’s time, Mark 12. 28. The Lord simply referred him to the law which the man professed to know. Love for God first and love for your neighbour as yourself to follow closely. The widow in giving all, had expressed a love for her neighbour as herself. She could give no more!

The Lord, in Mark’s record, called the attention of His disciples to the widow and explained the true value of what she had done that day. He alone had the moral right to do this since, as Paul would remind the Corinthians, ‘ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich’, 2 Cor. 8. 9.

I would love to follow that dear lady as she left the temple that day, having no idea she had been observed. She had laid up treasure in heaven and would no doubt be amply rewarded. One day, maybe soon, we can ask her all about it.



G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel of Luke, Oliphants, 1954.


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