By Joyce Long
It’s one of my treasured possessions, but I rarely wear it. A gift from my daughter, it’s a one-half inch flattened circle secured by a four-prong rim, now hanging on a nine-inch silver chain. Corrosion has darkened and mashed its engraving. The necklace’s “stone” is actually the smallest, least valuable coin minted in Judea 103-76 BC. Worth approximately six minutes of a daily average wage, the bronze mite is an alloy of copper and tin. It wouldn’t buy much at the market—dropped change no one ever bothered to pick up.
Jesus knew the mite’s minimal worth and perhaps had a few jangling in his pouch as he taught the temple court crowd. His message warned of teachers who often exploited widows, strutted in flowing robes, and demanded the most important places of honor. Afterward Jesus sat down across from the temple treasury, where he watched the rich give from their wealth. A poor widow dropping two mites into the box caught his eye and his heart.
“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’” (Mark 12: 43, 44).
Back to the scene Jesus observed at the temple, the Gospel writer Mark noted, “Many rich people threw in large amounts.” Considering our standard of living in the United States, many of us are those rich people. Driving to worship services, we often arrive in cars with heated seats, tinted windows, and sunroofs. Perhaps many of us tithe our income to the local body of Christ. Yet what impressed Jesus as he watched the widow was not how much she gave, but her complete trust in giving. Out of her poverty, the poor widow gave to the Lord’s work all she had to live on. She obviously was not concerned about how she would take care of herself. Somehow, some way, she knew God would provide for her needs.
What if, for one month all of us gave to God’s work the amount we use for groceries and bills? What if we risked our self-sufficiency, leaning on him to meet our needs? Perhaps Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God’s throne, would see and say, “They put in all they had to live on.” Do we really believe he will take care of us if we honor our heart’s desire to put him first?
My husband and I lived out this principle 17 years ago when I took a significant pay cut to work for our local church a year before our children would attend college. How would we afford their tuition? Incredibly God provided all we needed, but not all we wanted during that time. On a tight budget, life became simpler with after-dinner walks and more time together. Entitlement dissolved as blessings were provided—sometimes bestowed just in time. As with the widow, Jesus assesses our trust based upon our dependence upon him.
Surrendering to God’s Sovereignty
Jesus didn’t identify the widow as anything but poor. Her pedigree wasn’t mentioned. Neither was her husband, nor her occupation. She was simply a poor widow who gave everything. Jesus is always impressed with how we give of ourselves. Our accomplishments may impress others, but God sees beyond success into our surrender.
Discarding how the world defines us takes trust to a higher level. It means giving up our preferences to depend upon God’s purpose in our lives. Personally I would have enjoyed remaining in my chosen profession. Yet the Holy Spirit stirred a new purpose within my soul and prodded me with this truth: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11: 6). During the transition I realized being an educator had become an idol in my life. Pride squeezes out the need to trust God’s sovereignty.
Sacrificing our will doesn’t come easily. Sometimes during those difficult times when money was tight and circumstances stressful, my husband and I were frustrated. We’re both planners and like to see how, when, and where plans will be fulfilled before we commit. Trust doesn’t work that way. Rarely does Jesus give us a detailed map when we decide to follow him.
The widow didn’t know who would invite her to dinner or who would give her extra bread for the week. She knew only that God saw her sacrifice and would care for her. When we surrender ourselves for God’s purpose, we can know Jesus sees our sacrifice. Life decisions regarding career, education, marriage, and parenting will be filtered into the heart of our Lord who loved each of us enough to die for our sins. We can apply what Jesus taught his disciples, “I tell you, this poor widow [wife, husband, mother, father. . .] has put more into the treasury than all the others” (Mark 12:43b).
Trusting in God’s Rewards
Think of trust as a muscle we can exercise to become stronger spiritually. The more we use it, the more we feel free to trust. Throughout the Bible we witness how trusting in God’s promises enabled servants such as Abraham, Hannah, Mary, and Joseph to obey despite their circumstances.
Sometimes God tests our trust in him. Previously Abraham had left his country, his people, and his father’s household and journeyed to Canaan, following the promise of blessing; he trusted, despite his age, that God would give him a child. Even though his wife laughed at God, Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham when they were 90 and 100. Imagine how Abraham felt “some time later” when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac on one of the mountains in Moriah. Imagine Sarah’s response if her husband explained God’s request. Yet Abraham trusted God would provide the lamb, and he did (Genesis 22).
Hannah, much like Abraham, prayed for a son. Her husband Elkanah had another wife, Peninnah, who had children and ridiculed Hannah for having none. As she worshipped in Shiloh, the priest witnessed Hannah’s intense weeping and praying, questioning her sobriety. Her reply: “I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief” (1 Samuel 1:15). The priest assured her that the God of Israel would answer her prayer for a son. Hannah believed him and waited expectantly for God to answer, which he did in the birth of Samuel.
Centuries later another young Hebrew woman would become pregnant with the chosen one of Israel, the Messiah. Even when fear of ridicule and the unknown disturbed her, Mary trusted in God’s will. She believed the angel’s message, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, English Standard Version).
Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, could have retaliated years later when they came to Egypt for food. Instead he loved and pardoned them. Why? Because Joseph understood that God used his sacrifice and service to save his people. Trusting God always serves a greater purpose.
Did the poor widow notice Jesus watching her as she gave? I doubt it. Her heart was in the moment, trusting both the temple priests and whom they served. In fact, she may have been thinking, “This is the least I can do.” As the Son of God, Jesus knew her action reflected her heart. Perhaps she even served at the temple, giving her time and energy to make a difference.
When my daughter gave me the widow’s mite necklace, a Certificate of Authenticity was attached: “This unique, ancient Jewish coin was discovered during excavations in the Holy Land.” Perhaps it was unearthed at the temple’s southern base near where the City of David once stood. Maybe it was discovered on the excavated Roman thoroughfare currently accessible in Old Town Jerusalem. No matter its resting place, the widow’s mite unpacks a lesson transcending time, decay, and neglect—one that displays how Jesus values and rewards our trust in him.
When I occasionally wear my silver-chained, corroded coin necklace, no one ever asks its significance. That’s fine. Jesus knows. He always sees past our adornment into our hearts.
Joyce Long serves on Center for Global Impact’s board of directors and cosponsors Heartland Christian Writers biannual retreats.