The Bible Monthly vol. 1
III.—THE WIDOW'S MITES.
"And He sat down over against the treasury, and beheld how the multitude cast money into the treasury; and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a 73oor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing. And He called unto Him His disciples, and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than all they which are casting into the treasury: for they all did cast in of their superfluity; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living" (Mark :iii. 41-44, R.V.).
We have in these verses the .case of another offering of money different made denomination for religious and purposes, value. but These in coins offerings of a were not collected in Galilee and elsewhere, as in the case of the silver half-shekel (Matt. xvii. 24-27), to which reference has already been made in a previous article. They were voluntary offerings made in the precincts of the temple itself by those who went there to worship. The proceeds would be used to defray the expenses of the priestly and Levitical services and of the maintenance of the temple buildings. On this particular occasion, the feast of the passover being at hand, special offerings were no doubt made to meet its expenses.
The incident of the widow's generous gift occurred at a very solemn juncture in the ministry of our Lord. It was three or four days only before His crucifixion. The hopeless spiritual condition of the nation was vividly exhibited just previously to the disciples by the fruitless fig tree which after our Lord's curse withered away from its roots. The day following was marked by encounters in the temple courts with the chief priests and scribes and elders (Mark xi. 27), who sought to entangle the Lord in His talk by their questions. Baffled in their schemes to find some ground for formal accusation against Him, they departed, and the Lord sat down over against the treasury, where on a previous occasion He had sat clown and taught the people (John viii. 20).
We gather from Jewish sources that this part of the temple cloisters was so called because of a number of chests or boxes which were placed there for the reception of such offerings as the pious were inclined to give. It is said that the boxes were provided with wide apertures or mouths which tapered down to narrow throats, and were known as "trumpets " because of this shape.
We read that the Lord beheld, or rather was observing, how the multitude was casting money into the offertory boxes. Many of the contributors were rich, and they apparently were throwing in much, that is, many coins, ostentatiously, as it is the habit of many to do on such occasions.
But an instance of giving of an altogether different order came under our Lord's observation. It was an exception to the general rule. A woman came to the boxes alone (see margin, "one "). She was a widow, and desolate, as so many of that class were in that land. Moreover, it is specially noted that she was poor, a pauper in fact, perhaps one who had been impoverished b y the rapacit y of the scribes, who, as the Lord had just said, had made it a practice to "devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers " (verse 40).
The woman's poverty and distress had not soured her heart, or dried up the springs of her gratitude to God. She would not be denied the joy of giving to the Great and Good Giver. She went up to the house of God with her offering, and cast into the large box her two small mites (lepta), which, as Mark explains for the benefit of Roman readers of his Gospel, make one farthing (kodrantees, or quadrans). The widow then, unconscious it would appear of the observant eves of the Lord Jesus, went her wa y , bereft of all visible means of support for the future apart from such labour as she might be able to undertake. She had parted with all her substance, and in effect committed herself to the tender mercies of Jehovah, who is, in His holy habitation, to which she had come, the Judge, especially of the widows and fatherless (Ps. lxviii. 5; cxlvi. 9).
THE MITES, OR LEPTA.
The coins named in this account were not made of silver, but of brass or copper, and therefore of comparatively small circulating value. The rich folk were each casting into the treasury chests many of the brass or copper pieces, as they could easily do out of their abundant wealth.
The two coins contributed by the poor widow were called lepta. The name, lepton, is of Greek origin. There was such a coin extant at that day, and, in point of fact, its name is still retained in the Greek currency of our own time. The two pieces were equivalent to one kodrantees, or quadrans, which was a small Roman coin. The quadrans, being a Roman coin, could not itself have been used as an offering, since the use of foreign money was forbidden in the temple service. On this account, money-changers, whose tables the Lord had overturned on the previous day (Mark xi. 15), plied their calling in the sacred courts, for the convenience of those who, like the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, came to Jerusalem from afar, and did not possess the requisite Jewish currency.
The copper mite, or lepton, of which the widow was able to offer two pieces for the service of God, was no doubt the Jewish coin, known as the perutah. it was the tiniest coin in circulation, and weighed only 15 grains. Coins of similar weight are still produced for currency. A bronze coin corresponding in weight is struck in London for use in Malta, where it passes current as one-third of a British farthing.
Besides the parallel passage in Luke xxi. 1-4, allusion was made by our Lord to the small face value of the mite or lepton on one other occasion. Referring to the present penal condition of the guilty Jewish people under the figure of the imprisoned debtor, the Lord said, "1 say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the very last mite " (Luke xii. 59, RAT.).
WHAT THE MITES TEACH.
(1). We cannot but recall that "the eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good " (Prow. xv. 3). Especially in "the temple " does He scrutinize our acts. Before the day of the judgment-seat He passes under review our motives and the extent of our abilities. Our gifts are appraised, even as they are given, and their relative merits infallibly assigned.
Sitting over against the treasury , the Lord saw some, no doubt, who gave a tenth of their possessions. But on whatever scale they taxed themselves, they all, in His estimation, fell short in comparison. He did not say their gifts possessed no value, but that of the widow woman was superior. Her offering was judged by its "quality " and not by its "quad Such was the Lord's standard of value at that time, and the record is given that we may apply the test to our own offerings to-day.
The widow gave to God out of her penury, unlike the rich who contributed out of their overplus. A similar spirit of sacrifice was exhibited by the assemblies of Macedonia, who in a time of much affliction showed abundant joy, and in their deep poverty displayed rich liberality (2 Cor. viii. 2).
(2). God beheld the works of His creation, and saw that they were good. Moreover, God loves a cheerful giver. Was it not some joy to our Lord at the close of a day of conflict with the hollow formality of the religious guides of the people to observe the simple piety and noble munificence of a destitute widow ? In vain He looked among the priests and scribes and the thronging crowds for those who understood and sought after God. The refreshment and delight of His spirit was found in that excellent saint (Ps. xvi. 3), despised though she would be by the Pharisees. He who had Himself become poor "for our sakes," who " sold all that He had," saw some feeble likeness to His own great sacrifice.
The incident provided one of those gleams of light and comfort granted to the Man of sorrows in the dark and darkening hours of that closing week. There was a joy for Him in the widow and her mites, in the Hosannas of the children, in Bethany and its precious ointment, in the robber's confession and appeal. Thankfully, joyfully, the obedient Son accepted these favours from the Father who sent Him. "I thank Thee, 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and best revealed them unto babes." "Thine they were, and Thou gayest them Me." "Of such is the kingdom of God."
(3). It is important to perceive what is the divine basis of valuation. The standard of the sanctuary is quite different from that of the market-place. In the house of God "actions are weighed." It is therefore possible that thirty grains of copper may there become greater in value than thirty talents of gold.
The magnitude of the donation does not count so much in the assessments of the heavenly kingdom as the amount reserved. The rich still retained an overplus, but the widow nothing. God does not refuse the poor offerings of the poor, but He will not accept the poor offerings of the rich (Mal. ii. 13).
It has been said that a practical test of the quality of our gifts is the inquiry to oneself, Do I feel this gift? Does it really affect me? If the answer is not honestly in the affirmative, I should increase my gift. For instance, if I have given £1 without feeling it, let me try what is the effect of £5.
(4). Prudent and cautious persons sometimes excuse themselves for their lack of generous giving by the plea that their money may be misused by the recipients. It is possible that the widow's mites may have helped to provide the fee paid by the chief priests to Judas, the traitor. It is certain, however, that her gift was specially brought by the Lord with His commendation to the notice of the disciples. She did not know the foul scheme of the priests and Judas. Her gift was to God, and the Lord looked at the purpose in the heart of the giver (2 Cor. ix. 7). In due time the Lord would take account of the deeds of Judas and the responsible leaders of the people.
An erroneous application of the Lord's commendation of the widow's act is sometimes made. Persons speak of contributing their "mite," meaning thereby that they have consciously subscribed a small sum, or a smaller sum than they might have done. But their remark nevertheless assumes that they can claim the Lord's approval of their "mite " equally with the widow of old. But before such a claim is made it should be remembered that the widow did not give one only of her mites, but both; she did not give the "half of her goods " like Zacchaeus, but "all her living."