Thanks to the eloquent and prolific Bosco Peters, I've been fretting away about the text of the widow's mite. Bosco Peters has an interesting, challenging and, I suspect, correct view on this story.
The problem - the bit where we get it wrong - is where we break the text up into chunks rather than seeing it as a whole piece. Here it is:
The Widow’s Offering (Mark 12: NIV)
41 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. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said,“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
And, concludes the preacher, Jesus commends the widow for her whole-hearted giving. Because she alone understands that what God is doing is calling for whole-hearted sacrifice - giving all she has to the service of God. What a great example she is to us.
See, what we've done there is rip a gobbet of Scripture out of context and used it to justify what we want it to say. And the sub-headings in our Bible and our chapter divisions let us do it.
Let's take the headings and chapters out and put the context in.
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
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.
As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?”replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”'
In that context, the moral isn't about whole-hearted sacrifice at all. It's about a futile act. The widow has invested her money in something that won't last. The rich men have thrown their money as well for the same lost cause, but then they can spare it. And they got the benefit of being known benefactors. They have received their reward on earth, at least.
And giving to the Temple isn't, strictly speaking, giving to God even if it were going to last. We refer to the Temple of Herod as the Second Temple but it's actually more like Temple 2(b). Herod the (so-called) Great was rebuilding the Temple to the Glory of God, and his own glory as the half-Jewish puppet king. And it was a nice little earner. The priests had the money to be proper players in the Judean power games. Until the Zealots went over the top and the roof fell in on the whole thing.
So the thing she's given her money for isn't gonna last 40 years - if she's a young widow she might even see it fall. And she's given her money because she's been conned into a corrupt scheme where the priests can wield patronage with a vicious Gentile occupying power - propping up a scheme that should, if the priests really read the prophets, be giving money to her.
The widow was conned. She should have spent her mite on a bagel. You reckon Jesus commended her? I expect he wasn't angry with her. But I bet he hated the system