What Jesus Learned from a Generous Destitute Widow

What Jesus Learned from a Generous Destitute Widow August 28, 2019

One question in particular has grabbed my attention in this story: how did Jesus know that the woman had given all she had? Was he simply guessing, or was he using someone as an illustration whose story he knew?

As with so many other stories in the Gospels that I explore in this book, this one raises a question for the reader that we who read too often fail to ask. Did Jesus not teach these things before? Was this Jesus illustrating a point that he had made countless times? In reading it, do we not get the sense that he is surprising his audience, including his inner circle of disciples? And if the latter is the case, then does that not suggest that Jesus is not merely illustrating a point he had already formulated and taught, but is gaining insight from what he sees and sharing it, learning and then facilitating learning by others as all good educators do?

The other key question is whether Jesus’ point is the widow’s generosity, or the system that results in a poor individual giving even the little that they have, while others give a fraction of their wealth or earnings and live lavishly nevertheless. What are your thoughts on that?

Also about this story:

Rich scribes and poor widows: reading Mark 12.38-44 with Ched Myers and Addison Wright

Addison Wright’s CBQ article on the story is available online

Widows in the New Testament period

Jesus and Chance

Sermon: The Widow’s Plight

The Widow’s Mite? No, MIGHT! – Justice, Power, and the Widow

Faith to Go: Money and Discomfort

Another look at the widow’s mite


Other links related to early Christian women, women in the ancient world, and the like:

Mary and Martha Talk about Bicycle Riding, Writing Books, and Sabbatical

Mary Retold on AJR

The many layers of the story of the women bent double in Luke 13

Covenant Partners: The Biblical Egalitarian Outlook on Female and Male Relationships in Genesis 17

How Evangelicals Forgot Women’s History

New Clues for Ascent of the Soul in the Gospel of Mary

Matchmaking With the Ancients

Sarah Finley, Christopher Newport University – Hearing Voices of Women Past

There was a review of Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval and Renaissance Literature in Bryn Mawr Classical Review.

What Do We Mean by Purity Culture?

Menstruation in Fiction

Christian Century had articles on a woman’s place in the mosque and The Bachelorette.

Christian Sheriff’s Deputy: I Was Fired for Refusing to Train a Female Cop

Was Early Christianity Hostile to Women?

Tendencies to Remember When Teaching Women

Who Was Mary Magdalene? Apostle, Lover, Demon Possessed?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • myklc

    Insufficient information in those few sentences to determine any absolute answer to your question. JC obviously felt it was something worth teaching, possibly in a similar fashion to the prayer of the publican?

  • skm9

    It always seemed to me to be a nakedly cynical attempt by the author to advance a business plan. Christianity was primarily a religion of the poor and enslaved at the time of this gospel’s writing, and the author knew that getting the last pennies from a large enough number of people would make up for a lack of wealthier believers.

  • Michael Wilson

    In passage like these, I think we should remember that the arrangement is not necessarily chronological. My bible notes that it might be the word wide that links it to the previous passage. This might have been said anytime Jesus was in Jerusalem and he may have gone more than once.

    Really I don’t think Jesus needed to have known anything about this woman to make this statement. It’s perfectly reasonable he made a judgement on appearances alone and the point would still stand so long as any poor widows put a couple of bits in the collection box. I mean this might have been a royal princess in disguise Jesus saw but so long as it looked like a poor widow and that some poor widows did indeed put pennies in the box, the illustration would work.

    Regarding one of the comments on cynicism, at the the time Mark was written I don’t think Christianity was the sure fire get rich scheme it is now. And the impression I get is then, as now the money to keep it going was from rich donors. Early Christianity seems to rely more on rich people giving poor preachers big loot than poor people giving their last bit.

    Regarding systems, neither the poor widow or the rich needed to give to the temple treasury, correct?

    People had to pay tax to Rome and whatever local lords but the treasury Jesus was talking about wasn’t a tax, it was a donation box. The widow’s mite fit into the earlier saying because it was about the rich being labeled righteous by nincompoops because they are impressed by big numbers, but really the sacrifice is a pittance to what they are worth. The widow is truly righteous cause her copper coins are all her wealth. The point is that the dude putting 100 gold coins in the donation box is in fact less holy than the woman putting 2 pennies in despite the fact that much more “good” is being done with the 100 gold than the 2 pennies because the dude still has a thousand pieces of gold TFW and the widow got nada, zero, zilch.

    Now an argument could’ve made that the gesture of the rich was propaganda that convinced the widow to put money in a box to upkeep God’s temple which ought to have the cash to keep up him self, so the contribution of the few grandees is valuable to convince the many marks to keep pitching in. Maybe if they didn’t give a sh*t about God’s Temple she would give those pennies to a poor nephew needing shoes. But again, I don’t think deep Marxist analytics was on Jesus’ mind. He just saw a simple looking woman put a couple of bits in a cash box God’s charity of continuing existence.