Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Vision (6.5.14): The Widow's Mite

Note:  Devotion taken from last Sunday’s message Religious Show Versus Religious Reality (Luke 20:41—21:4):

Luke 21:1 And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. 2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. 3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: 4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.

Luke records that after the season of controversy and verbal sparring in temple, Jesus looked up and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury (21:1).

The historians tell us that at this time the “treasury [gazophylakion]” was a section of the temple in what was called the court of the women where there were thirteen trumpet-shaped offering boxes where worshippers would make contributions as an act of piety to support the temple services.

Luke mentions first, in particular, that Jesus saw the rich casting their gifts into these offering boxes.  The moment we hear the title “the rich” an internal alarm sounds, for Jesus has taught about the dangers of riches.  Recall his account of the deaths of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 and the sorrowful turning away from discipleship of the rich young ruler in Luke 18, where Jesus taught:  “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (18:24b-25).

Next, Luke adds that Jesus also saw “a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites” (v. 2).  There are several things we should observe in this brief verse.  Luke’s adjective here for poor is penichra, and it is only used here in the NT.  It refers to a state of extreme and destitute poverty.  In the first century, marriage and family were a social safety net.  Leon Morris observes:  “A widow had few ways of earning money in first century Judea and normally found life very difficult.  A poor widow is thus almost proverbial for the poorest of the poor” (Luke, p. 294).

She gives two “mites.”  The Greek word is lepta and it refers to a Jewish copper coin (the only reference to Jewish coins in the NT) that were of exceedingly small value.  In a commentary I read which was published in the 1970s it said the value of the coin was about a tenth of a penny.  Nowadays I’m guessing we might say it was worth a hundredth of a penny!

When we were living in Hungary just after communism, the currency was called the forint and they had a smaller coin called the filler which due to inflation was almost worthless and has now passed out of circulation.  It was minted in such light and thin metal so that it seemed almost to float from your hand!  I imagine that the “mite” was like that.  There are some early Jewish sources that might indicate that two lepta or two mites were considered the least amount that one could contribute to the treasury.

What a contrast:  Here are rich men giving much apparently to the temple treasury and here is a poor widow giving what seems to be little to the same treasury.

But this is not how Jesus sees things.  Remember, man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

So, in v. 3 Jesus declares that this widow has given more than all (v. 3).  He explains in v. 4 that the other contributors gave out of their abundance, while this widow out of her “penury” or poverty gave all her living (bios), all that she had.

If Bill Gates were to visit our church, and he placed a check for $10,000 in the offering plate that would be a very large gift, but in comparison to his wealth it would be minuscule.  At the same time if a poor widow who worked at a fast food restaurant for minimum wage and who barely scraped by week to week wrote a tithe check for the last $25 in her checking account so that she might have the privilege of supporting her Lord’s work through his church there would be no contest as to who had given the most.  This is why we can never judge generosity of stewardship by quantity, but it must always be seen by quality.

You can give much and in very public ways to support religious endeavors.  But if you give only of your abundance, of your fiscal leftovers, what does this say of your heart?  Think again of Jesus’ praise of the widow.  What is it that he finds so praiseworthy of her?  She gave of out of poverty everything she had.  She lived a life of complete and total dependence upon the Lord for her day to day existence.  Hers was not a “wax museum spirituality.”  This is a model of genuine discipleship that Jesus finds praiseworthy.  May we have the grace to follow him in like manner.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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