Summary: Most of us have heard the story of the widow's mite.Is there more to this story than first appears?
The Last Mite Becomes the Last Straw
The Parable of the woman’s mites has been a popular preaching text for over 2,000 years. It has been used as an example of total commitment to the Gospel. It is certainly true that God expects complete and total devotion to Him and that includes our money. But there is more to the parable than this. Let us look into the text and get the rest of the story.
Exposition of the Text
Although verse five is not usually included with this passage, it is the key to understanding it. The disciples marveled at the Temple and its lavish decoration. They saw the gleaming white marble and glittering gold which adorned the Temple and the surrounding buildings. Herod’s Temple at Jerusalem truly rated as one of the wonders of the world. For all his faults, Herod the Great was a magnificent builder. He built splendid palaces for himself, a great harbor at Caesarea as well as temples to Rome and her gods. The buildings of Herod were meant to show the superiority of Roman technology and power as much as to glorify Herod.
One can just imagine the cost of building the Temple. Thousands of tons of dirt had to be hauled to expand the courts of the Temple which had to be kept in place by the movement of huge rocks. Gold and marble had to be brought from other lands and hauled overland and uphill to Jerusalem. John mentions that the Temple of Jesus early ministry had been 46 years in building and was still under construction. Ironically, it would not be finished until just before the Jewish War for Independence close to 40 years later. Many donations from well to do Jews from all over the Roman Empire were needed to make the massive expansion of the second Temple built 500 years earlier.
O the glory of it all! “Just look at what I have built!” Of course, the glory of the Temple was formally given to the Jehovah, but the real glory was in the works of the hands of men. Herod’s other temples built to Rome and her gods is proof that it was not undertaken to give glory to Jehovah at all. The Temple gave pride to all of Jerusalem and her people.
Now we can come to the story of the widow’s mites. This appears in Luke to have come at the end of Jesus’ last visit to the Temple just before going out to the Mount of Olives. So the words Jesus speaks here are His last words there.
First of all, Jesus just observed what was going on. He was in the court of the women where the offering boxes were placed. It was Passover season, so there would have been a large number of pilgrims there from all over the Empire. Many of the visitors were quite wealthy. As the offering boxes were made of metal and the opening to the box was a horn, the sound of any coin being put in these boxes would be amplified just like the horn on an antique phonograph amplified the sound coming from the wax signal so that it could be heard.
So when the wealthier came into the Temple, they threw in coins of gold and silver. Both gold and silver have distinctive rings. The sound of gold and silver would have been quite noticeable as it bounced off the stone walls of the Temple. When a lot of silver and gold coins were dropped in, it was advertised to all. These are the generous donors whose gifts paid for the splendid white marble and gold of the Temple.
The widow had no silver or gold. All she had were two copper mites. Instead of the deafening ring of gold and silver, all that would have sounded was two dull thuds. Just take an old silver quarter and drop it. Listen to the ring. Now take a penny minted after 2000 and drop it. Notice the difference. How much gold and marble would two mites buy? Her gift was insignificant by human terms. In fact, just counting her offering might seem rather a nuisance, just like someone who puts a handful of pennies in the offering plate.
Jesus knew that this was the widow woman’s last two mites. She was now going to go home and die. In this, we should be reminded of the widow woman Elijah met who was at the end of her meal and oil. She was going to make one last little cake for her and her son before they died of starvation. Elijah instead told her to give it to him instead and promised that the oil and meal would last until the end of the famine. So she gave the last she had to God’s servant Elijah. And God took care of her when no one else would. We would have to assume, although it is not written here, that Jesus took care of this woman also.