The Widow's Mites

(no, not bugs)

I’ve been thinking recently of a Bible story. For those who weren’t subjected to Sunday school from an early age, here’s the synopsis: Jesus and his disciples are in the temple watching people drop their donations into the bucket. Several rich men dump in large sums of money. Then a widow (who is always depicted as old, even though there seems to be no contextual basis for that assumption) drops in two mites, mites being tiny coins of small value. Jesus points her out to his disciples and says, in essence, that her gift was greater than the rich men’s, because they gave abundantly out of greater abundance, while she gave her last penny.

I can’t agree with this at all. Regardless of how I feel about the historical validity of Christianity, I’ve always thought there were some solid basic values to be found in it. This is not one of them. In essence, Jesus is saying that the value of a gift is determined by its worth to the giver. Thus the woman, in sacrificing all her meager substance, is making a great gift. I say that the value of a gift is determined by its worth to the recipient. Here’s an example: let’s say you were homeless and hungry. Another homeless person gives you a dollar, which he could probably ill afford to part with. Then a rich man pulls a $20 bill out of his wallet without even bothering to look at it and hands it to you. Whose gift was greater? Jesus would say the $1 bill, because his teachings glorify sacrifice (along with self-denial, meekness, and a host of other related traits). Me, I’ll take the $20 every time. Sacrifice is nice, but it makes a lousy sandwich.

Am I misinterpreting Jesus’ lesson here? Am I interpreting it correctly, but he’s right an I’m wrong? What say ye?

You are trying to measure things like this by human, earthly units of worth and justice. I am constantly reminded that these values are not held in the same worth by God.

That isn’t to say that there is no merit in their measure, just that God has a very different way to look at things.

Apparently it’s not even a biblical story. I don’t have any cites on hand, but I think it’s an apocryphal tale associated with the Catholic Church.

Here it is in Luke .

Here it is in Mark .

It’s in Mark and Luke.

ETA: beaten to it, and by a better post.

I think what you are failing to grasp is that sacrificing to the church is actually a gift to yourself. It’s not that the church needs the money; giving is supposed to be about recognizing that you owe God.

Why yes, yes you are.

The participants in the ‘tithe’ that Jesus was observing was handing money to the church to support the faith.
A faith-based charitable donation if you will, where the participants were members of that faith.
The church itself was not about to keel over and die whether the widow dropped her mites into the pot or not.
Jesus was observing the strength of the conviction of the Widow in her faith to supply money to support her church even though the donation was meaningless compared with the couple of Charlie Large Potatoes who went before her.

Those mites meant a great deal to the Widow, the gold to Messers Potato where small potatoes.

I learned this the hard way growing up when I realised that my Ma who was divorced and on Child Support was still tithing 10% of what amounts to zip to her church.
It’s a faith thing … don’t agree with it, but I understand why they do it.

A friend of mine, now deceased, had little in the way of money, but she wanted to give me something that was of special value to her.

Her son had died in a car accident. He had burned to death in the car. After the vehicle had been “officially” cleaned out, she went through it herself to make certain that no part of him was overlooked or left behind. That’s the kind of raw strength this woman had.

The item she chose to give me was her boy’s class ring. Although she’s gone now too, I would be hard pressed to find anything that I value more. I know how much that ring meant to her.

The widow’s mites were of more value because it demanded more of her to give them. She more likely than not did without something she needed in order to give those. Her sacrifice is what makes them of greater value.

I think that a better interpretation of the story would be to replace “gift” with “sacrifice”. The woman sacrificed more, so her gift was better.

God doesn’t want your money, son. He wants your blood and livelihood.

A little background may help here. The Old Testament scriptures had a lot to say about donations and sacrifices. (Try reading a few chapters of Leviticus and Numbers, if you’ve never done so before, to see what I mean.) Moreover, the Law demanded that sacrifices be determined by wealth. The richest had to sacrifice a bull or a goat, poorer people would sacrifice two doves, and the poorest would offer a cup of oil, etc… These sacrifices played an important role in Jewish society. They were offered on certain dates and under certain circumstances, with much ceremony. The whole process helped delineate social class by clarifying who was on top and who was at the bottom.

Jesus, of course, was preaching a message of radical social equality. On several occasions he directly praises the poor and criticizes the rich. On others, he teaches people to reject fancy ceremony and focus on genuine dedication to God. This story, then, plays into his theme of equality. Jesus has thrown out the portion of the Law that separated sacrifices by social classes.

The Christian ideal is for people to give everything they have for other people because of their love for God. The only personal who perfectly obeyed this ideal was Jesus, who sacrificed Himself. By that measure, the widow was closer than the rich men to the ideal practiced by Jesus.

(We should also note that widows had very low status in Jewish society. Hence the very idea that a widow could perform a higher service than the richest people was somewhat groundbreaking.)

You’re looking at it from the point of view of the receiver. Jesus is looking at it from the point of view of the giver.

Looking at your example: What do their actions tell you about the fellow homeless person who gave you the dollar and about the rich man who gave you the twenty? Would you really be unmoved by the offer of a dollar from a guy for whom that was a heckuva lot of money?