He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’ (NRSV)
After removing himself from the crowd Jesus re-commences his temple tour. In his own quiet way he is people-watching. It is a good practice.
Positioning himself opposite the treasury Jesus observed the temple’s collection of money. Solomon’s rebuilt masterpiece was a money-mulching machine requiring constant upkeep. Neglect would not reflect well on those entrusted with caring for this most prized national symbol.
The system demanded they collect.
Large quantities of coin travelled through these gates. Perhaps their owners really are seeking attention and approval as they hand over their loads. At the very least they are not objecting to prying eyes – even those of Jesus himself.
But the Messiah is not seduced by the show. Rather it is the contrast between their act and that of our poor widow that captures his imagination. Her broken penny conceals a radical generosity and trust visible only to the faith-filled eye.
Jesus observed this widow through kingdom-coloured lenses. that is to say, Jesus is the only one observing without an artificial filter. Everything in the temple is designed to colour the observer’s world with an artificial hew. It has won over many. But not all. Jesus is still seeing from the only true vantage point – heaven.
And what he sees reveals the core values – not only of the widow – but also of the kingdom he represents: humility, generosity, sacrifice. They are all hidden here – well, almost.
Many have observed the secretiveness in the widow’s giving. Our text hints in this direction as Jesus calls over his disciples. His pep talk implies that he was unconvinced that they had seen. Perhaps the disciples were not blind to grand quantities of cash – but the sacrificial gift of this unnamed widow needed to be pointed out.
Given the mention of widow’s homes immediately prior to this story we are left with legitimate questions: Has Jesus noticed in this widow a poverty made by the system? Was her family home one of the ‘devoured’ ones? In what way does this story continue on seamlessly from his critical assessment of the scribes?
We are left to wonder. But whatever the answers may be I find a delightful irony in our heroin’s quiet, unobtrusive, almost shamed act. There is no indication that she ever spoke to Jesus. In fact from her perspective no-one ever noticed.
But once Jesus has made his observations her generosity becomes more public than she could imagine. The story of her extravagant gift finds its way into the most published and translated of all books. Without ever knowing she has become a memorable part of history’s most celebrated story!
And it is a good thing. For through the perceptive observation of Jesus the world has seen what it otherwise could not.
The widow gave more. Heaven could neither forget nor cease to celebrate.