And he looked up, and saw the rich men that were casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
And he said, “Of a truth I say unto you, This poor widow cast in more than they all: for all these did of their superfluity cast in unto the gifts; but she of her want did cast in all the living that she had” (Luke 21:1-4).
It is easy for us humans to be enraptured by numbers; it is less easy to get excited about proportions. We tend to put much more value on the numbers than on the proportions.
The treasury box was placed in the Temple so that Jews could leave their financial gifts to provide for the sacrifices, incense, and other such things for the Temple.
Most observers on that spring day in 30 CE would have appreciated all of the gifts of the rich. They were, no doubt, putting in plenty of shekels or denarii to keep the incense burning and the animals on the altar. A widow bringing a couple of lepta would be completely forgotten in the process. After all, what can approximately 23 cents (a rough approximation, in modern money, of the value of two lepta) buy?
According to a worldly perspective, Jesus’ comment is truly laughable. This widow, with her 23 cents, put in more than all of the rich people with their hundreds of dollars? In what universe is 23 cents worth more than hundreds of dollars? If the ministers of the Temple depended on 23 cents as the greatest of contributions, how would they be able to keep up the incense and sacrifices?
But Jesus is not speaking about numbers. His concern is far greater– He focuses on the proportion and the faith.
Jesus would not deny that, in numerical terms, the rich men were putting in more money. But the rich people would go back to their homes with plenty of resources. They would have a nice bed and a good meal and plenty else. They did not really miss the money that they put in the offering box. It was above and beyond their real need. It was not, in any meaningful definition of the word, a sacrifice for them.
The widow has an entirely different story. Those two mites are all that she has. She does not really have a home to which to return. She does not have good food to eat. There is nothing else. The two mites are all that she has. And she proves willing to give them in faith to God for incense and sacrifices. She, truly, has sacrificed!
Today we would entirely understand if someone who was in such deep poverty as this widow were to use his or her meager resources for themselves. But this widow was willing to really trust in God. She was willing to put everything she had on the line and trusted that God would provide for her needs. She truly put God first and foremost in her life in a way that very few of us would ever completely understand!
The odds are that most of us fall somewhere in between the rich people and the poor widow– we do not have a ton of money that we can give without suffering some kind of loss, but we are not on our last dollar, either. We should not conclude from this story that we must give every last penny to Jesus– instead, we are to gain from the story that while we humans may be more enamored with numbers than proportion, God is far more concerned with proportion than number. For some, $20 is giving sacrificially. For others, $20 is a lot like the rich people and their gifts– not something that will be missed. But 20% for most anyone would be a significant loss, let alone 30, 40, or even 60%!
As believers we must give to God and those in need as God has bountifully given to us and with a cheerful heart (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3, 2 Corinthians 9:6-11). When we give, let us consider the example of the poor widow and Jesus’ important lesson: we cannot fool God with numbers. He knows the heart, and He knows the proportion. As God has suffered the loss of so much for us, let us also be willing to sacrifice for God!
Ethan R. Longhenry