Mark 12:41–44 is an interesting passage to interpret. Jesus calls the disciples to Himself and points out a widow who has given the last of her money to the temple. What the reader is left to assume is the implicit lesson that Jesus was teaching to His disciples.
Jesus first points out that the widow’s contribution is proportionally higher than others that He had observed giving. She gave “more than all those” who had been giving as well (Mark 12:43). The sense of “more” was not that of amount, as seen in Jesus’ words to follow. They gave “out of their abundance” and had plenty to live on thereafter; the widow gave seemingly little but “everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).
From this episode, many conclude that the widow is being held up as an example in some way. Some assume she has faith for God to provide when she gave her last away. Others see her as an example of giving until it hurts. From the context, it seems she was actually giving out of desperation and a victim of a religion of corruption.
Jesus never actually gives an explicit commendation of this woman. In fact, the text itself seems to be an example of what Jesus was teaching in the temple in Mark 12:38–40. He spoke of scribes who “devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:40), an action obviously in contradiction to their pretended religiosity (cf. Mark 12:38–40). Mark then records Jesus watching a widow indeed giving the last of her house, hoping perhaps for some miraculous provision in return. It seems that the scribes had taught her to do just as they wished – to give everything, even what is essential to one’s basic needs. These were rapacious men who cared nothing for those from whom they stole. On the outside, however, they appeared to be praying, important men. For this woman, she seems to giving the last of her house to the temple, a victim of these villainous men.
Mark 3:1–6 shows leaders who cared nothing for the needy. Mark 7:10–13 shows that they kept their goods from their aging parents when they could. It seems fitting that Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:38—40 should be followed in Mark 12:41–44 by an example of a widow being more or less robbed of her last coins. It would also seem abruptly out of place for something good to be seen on a day when Jesus has repeatedly condemned and silence Israel’s leaders, only to be followed by a prophecy of the destruction of the temple as well (Mark 13:1–2).
We learn a simple lesson from Jesus’ teaching about the scribes and His observation of this widow. Those who want your money will often make themselves out to be the most sincere people you could meet. However, they will exploit your weaknesses and rob you blind. As Jesus said of the scribes then, beware of such people today!
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.