Today, we will look at an event in the life of Jesus that seems strange because it appears to say one thing, when it reality says something different. This is one of those events that the details of the event and the details of the context are crucial to understanding what God’s Word is saying to us.

When I read this event from Mark 12 you are going to think it is about one thing, but in reality it is about something completely different. After I read it, I’m going to ask you what you think it’s about. So pay close attention. Are you ready? Here we go.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. 43 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44, NLT)

I asked you to be prepared to say what you think this is about. In your mind, tell yourself what you think it’s about. If you said giving, commitment, sacrifice, worship, generosity, or faithfulness you are wrong. Some of those elements might be in there, but that’s not what this about.

I’m going to give you one word that describes this event. When I give you the word you will think, “What? I don’t see it? That doesn’t make any sense? Where do you get that from?” If it’s not about giving, commitment, worship, generosity, or faithfulness then what’s it about? It is about judgement. Jesus is about to bring judgment down on the religious system and how it abuses the financial gifts of both the rich and the poor. Let me show you.

Let’s go back a couple of days with Jesus. Jesus enters the Temple complex and He began driving out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. Jesus said, “My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nation, but you have turned it into a den of thieves” (Mark 11:15-17, NLT). The religious leaders were charging outlandish prices for the sacrifices and elements that were needed for the various offerings. They were doing all this where the people should have been praying and worshipping God. Jesus cleared out an area that was the size of 10 football fields.

This made the religious leaders mad. They were so mad “they began planning how to kill him” (Mark 11:18). The next day the religious leaders approached Jesus at the Temple demanding He explain who gave Him the authority to clean out the Temple like He did. Then Jesus tells a parable about some evil farmers who managed a farm for an owner, but they ended up killing every messenger the owner sent including the owners son. The religious leaders knew Jesus was talking about them (Mark 12:1-13). These religious leaders decided to trap Jesus with some questions hoping He would either comment treason against the Roman Empire with His answers or blaspheme God with His answer. So they asked Jesus about the afterlife, the resurrection, and which commandment was the most important (Mark 12:18-34). Jesus answered their questions in such a way that it amazed the crowds and made the religious leaders look ignorant. The last thing Jesus says before this event of Him sitting down near the collection boxes is this,

Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.39 And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. 40 Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished (Mark 12:38-40, NLT).

The story takes a seemingly strange turn as Jesus, after a long and trying day, decided to sit down and observe people putting money in the collection box at the Temple. At first glance, the inclusion of this event about a widow and her offering is puzzling. But it’s not when you see the context. Here is what you have.

  • You have Jesus condemning and judging the Temple for how they are robbing people, especially widows.
  • You have Jesus pointing out a poor widow who gives her last bit of change to the Temple.
  • The very next thing we see Jesus say in chapter 13 is about judgement on the Temple and how it will fall.

As you will see the generosity of both the rich and the poor widow serve as an object lesson of why the corrupt religious system needs to come down. Due to the nature of this event and this passage there is no typical outline. We are going to walk through this passage of scripture and unpack it as we go.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple

Mark tells us that at the end of a long day of teaching and ministry, in verse 41, Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple…. The collection box (also known as the treasury) was located in the Court of the Women, which was open to all Jewish people. It was called the Court of the Women because that was as far as a woman was allowed to go in the temple except for offering certain sacrifices. It was a large area which could hold about 15,000 people. In this Court of the Women there were 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles or boxes into which people placed their tithes and offerings. Each box had a name on it identifying a particular type of offering (bird offerings, wood offerings, spice offerings, gold offerings, freewill offerings and the like).

and watched as the crowds dropped in their money

As Jesus sat there He watched as the crowds dropped in their money.

Jesus watched the people dropping in their offerings. This word watched (theoreo) means to look at closely and attentively with interest and purpose. It refers to someone who is watching carefully for the purpose of examination and evaluation regarding the details of what they are watching. So, Jesus is sitting near the collection boxes watching, observing, and closely paying attention to those who were giving. As far as we can tell, no one was aware that Jesus was carefully watching them.

Some translations state Jesus was watching “how” the people dropped their money into the collections boxes (see NASB). If you were sitting there you would see people give in different ways. Some would give quietly and anonymously. Some would have an announcer who would declare how much the person was giving. Because of the shape of the collection boxes like a trumpet and them being made out of brass they were made from, if you put in four or five coins it wouldn’t make much noise going into the box, but if you put in 100 coins then it would make a lot of racket. How people gave ranged from very quietly to great fanfare.

Remember, Jesus has already cleaned out the Temple and over turned the tables where they were buying and selling offerings and things people needed for the offerings. He did that because they were jacking the prices way up and basically using religion to steal from people who wanted to worship God. Jesus said they had turned God’s house into a den of thieves. He also just said that many of the scribes and religious leaders were devouring the property and finances of widows. Jesus is about to tell His disciples this Temple is going to be destroyed.

I say all this again because I don’t think Jesus was watching the people dropping their tithes and offerings in the collection boxes with delight, but with disgust. He is not upset with the givers, but with the takers. The religious leaders had turned the Temple giving into a scam to fill their own pockets.

Thought: This image of Jesus watching the crowds drop in their money makes me wonder how closely God watches us when we give.

Many rich people put in large amounts

What did Jesus see when He was watching the people? Well, one thing He saw was many rich people put in large amounts. A couple thoughts regarding being rich or wealthy.

  • Being rich is not sinful or selfish. Wealth is not offensive to God because He often blessed His people with riches. People like Abraham (Gene. 13:2), Jacob (Gen. 30:43), and King Solomon (1 Kings 10:23) would have been millionaires and King Solomon a billionaire. If you have been blessed with a lot of financial wealth, you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Wealth itself is morally neutral. What you do with your wealth can either enhance good or create more evil. Wealth can be used for God’s purposes or for selfish goals. Be thankful for it, be good stewards of it and use it for God’s kingdom and glory and eternal purposes.
  • Don’t let your riches become your idol. Psalm 62:10 says “If your wealth increases, don’t make it the center of your life” (NLT). As a person makes more and more money, they will be tempted to begin to think they need to make more and more money. They begin to make most of their decisions through the filter of making money. Their income becomes the center of their life. If your finances are increasing, be careful here. Jesus said, “Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12:15, NLT).

Back to Jesus at the Temple. Jesus is watching rich people put in large amounts. The word put (ballo) means to throw or cast their coins into the collection box. This casting action would make a lot of noise as the coins went through the brass trumpet shaped collection boxes. The idea behind the word put is they would grab a handful of coins and cast them and then grab another handful and cast again and then grab another handful and cast again (ballo is in the present tense which pictures continual casting of coins). Even though some of the rich people would do this for show, there were some who didn’t. Jesus does not make a statement about their motives or their manner of giving other than they put in a lot. It could be that if you were trying to be quiet about the large amount you were giving you couldn’t because of the design of the collection box was just going to be noisy with the coins whether you wanted them to or not.

So, Jesus saw wealthy people giving large amounts.

 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins

What else did Jesus see? According to verse 42 Jesus observed a poor widow who came and dropped in two small coins.

Jesus observes a poor widow. She is not just a widow, but a poor widow. How did she become poor? Jesus just said two verses earlier that the religious leaders “shamelessly cheat widows out of their property” (v. 40). Is it possible that this particular widow was cheated out of her estate by one of the religious leaders? As a result, all she had left were these two small coins.

This widow, for whatever reason, placed her two small coins in the collection box. This was the amount of a Roman penny, which is not like our penny. A Roman penny was 1/64 of a common workers daily wage. In today’s economy that would be about $1.50.

How did Jesus know the rich put in large amounts of money and the widow put in exactly two small coins? As I have already explained, their method of giving and their money is completely different than what you are used to at church. Here at Genesis, there is an offering box at the back and you can give any time before, during, or after the service. Even if you were to watch people drop money into the box, like Jesus did, you would not be able to tell the amount they are giving because it’s either a check, cash, or in an envelope. Some churches pass an offering plate or a bucket down each row and people place their money in the offering plate. Even that is quit and semi-private. For some people they give online or have set up automatic deposits as their form of giving regularly.

That’s not how giving was done then. These collection boxes had lids in the shape of a trumpet, and you would drop your gift into the opening and it rattle its way down into the box – the louder or longer the sound, the bigger the gift.

Jesus could have known by the sound of the widow’s money. He may have heard the sound of two coins being dropped in. Even with that, Jesus was not watching as a man, but as God. Why do I think that? Because He would tell His disciples that a widow (how did He know she was a widow?) had given everything she had to live on (and how did He know that?). Jesus was using divine revelation as He observed those giving that day.

A couple of thoughts come to mind here.

  • First, God knows. We are told in 1 Samuel 2:3, “For the Lord is a God of knowledge, and actions are weighed by him” (CSB). To those who give faithfully, God knows that you give. For those who feel like they give very little, God knows the sacrifice you make and He is able to take that little and do much. He sees you when you write that check each time. He sees you when you drop it in the offering box. He knows what that means to you. He saw when you set up that automatic withdrawal. He is the Lord who knows. He is the God of knowledge. He knows how much, He knows why you give, and He knows what you sacrificed.
  • Secondly, God cares. God has a special place in His heart for people for whom life is hard. This is consistently seen throughout God’s Word over and over again. For example we hear this in Psalm 146:9, “The Lord… cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked” (NLT).

Jesus called his disciples to him and said

After observing the people putting their money into the collection boxes Jesus called his disciples to him. So Jesus gets up and gathers His disciples around Him in order to tell them something important. He wanted to give them a significant lesson.

This is what Jesus does for you as well. There are going to be times in your life where Jesus will pull you in close and tell you something significant you need to know. Sometimes it will happen when you are alone and reading and studying His Word. Sometimes it will happen here at church while you are listening to God’s Word being taught.

“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

So what does Jesus say to His disciples?

He starts off by saying, I tell you the truth…. Some translations word this as “Truly, I say to you” (ESV). This was Jesus’ way of introducing the importance and authority of what follows. By the way, the Greek word for truth or truly in this case is amen. It means to be firm, to believe, and carries the idea of certainty. Jesus is saying, “I’m about to tell you something that is solid, you need to believe it because it is certain.” In the same way, when you say amen when a preacher is preaching you are saying, “I affirm what is being said, I believe what is being said, and I agree that what is being said is certain and true.”

What does Jesus say that is so significant? He says, This poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. 44 For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on. He says this without any additional information or insight. He states it and then moves on into chapter 13. Let’s look at what Jesus actually said versus what we assume He said.

Jesus says, This poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. She literally put in less amount of money, but Jesus evaluates her gift as more. He does not say it is better, but just that it is more than all of the others.

Jesus explains this by saying, For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on. Clearly, her two small coins were not more in total value, but more in proportion, because they were her everything. Some translations put it this way, “This poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on” (NASB).

Let me stop here and make an observation. There are going to be times in your life you will be giving out of abundance, out of your surplus. This is when you have enough. You have been financially blessed and you have more than you need. You have a surplus. You give generously out of that.

But there may be those times in your life, like this widow, you will need to give out of your poverty. When you give out of your poverty, it feels like the worse time to give. When you are down to your last few dollars, your reflex is to hold on tightly. Self-preservation takes over. But as you grow as a disciple of Jesus a new reflex of generosity develops and you trust God to provide you with whatever He thinks you need.

Whether you give out of your surplus or out of your poverty give cheerfully. God’s Word says something about this in 2 Corinthians 9:7, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (vs. 7-8, NLT).

Back to Jesus’ statement about the widow and let’s be clear about something here.

  • Jesus tells us she is poor. She is a widow and she gave everything she had to live on. Her offering was proportionately more than what the rich people gave.
  • Jesus makes no comment about her faith, her commitment, her dedication, or her worship to God. He also does not tell the disciples to go and do likewise. Jesus does not tell us whether what she did was a good thing or bad thing.
  • If you take the widow as an example to follow in your giving then you must give all your money to God. Every penny. If you follow her example you are to give everything you live on to the Lord. I don’t think that is Jesus’ point to the disciples or to us or He would have said it.

Jesus is not pointing out the widow as an example for us to follow, but He is pointing her out as an example of why He is about to bring judgement on the Temple and the religious system. He is not judging her, but the religious system that has become corrupt to the point that it would devour widows like her. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not judging the widow and He is not judging the wealthy for what they gave. He is judging the religious system for abusing their authority and abusing their power in order to gain great wealth camouflaged as pure religion and worship.

I think Jesus sees the wealthy who gave out of their surplus and the widow who gave out of her poverty as victims of a corrupt and greedy religious system. Remember, He just cleansed out the temple from all the greedy activities that were occurring in the court yard and He just accused the religious leaders for being greedy and devouring widows like of all their fortune and He is about to tell His disciples that this temple is going to fall and a few years later it does.

It’s like Jesus is saying to His disciples, “One of the reason why I came is to fix this kind of nonsense. I’m going to ruin the business of this temple and My people are going to get back to having a love relationship with the Heavenly Father, who give generously, and whose gifts make a difference in the lives around the world rather than feeding into the pockets of greedy religious leaders like these Pharisees.”


We are reminded…

  • Be a giver: Be generous whether out of your surplus or poverty. Give cheerfully.
  • Be a listener: Listen to Jesus, pay attention to what He says and what He shows you.
  • Be confident: God knows what is going on and He will make things right. Trust Him.
  • Be faithful: Until God makes all things right (judgement) be faithful with who you are and what you have.

Discussion Questions

  • Before you read this commentary, what word would you have used to describe the point of Jesus observing people giving at the Temple?
  • Do you think this is about judgement? Why or why not?
  • In what ways does various religious organizations today rob people of their finances?
  • If you knew Jesus was watching you give, how would that affect your giving?
  • If you are wealthy, does your giving reflect it? Have you considered giving more to the Lord? If not, why not?
  • If you are struggling financially, how can you still be faithful in your giving?
  • What does it look like to be a cheerful giver?
  • What is God saying to you through this section of scripture?