Monday, November 8, 2010

The Widow's Mite

Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Matthew 6:2

Jesus had warned his disciples of the scribes’ abusive actions towards widows when he gazed into the courtyard and observed a “poor widow” depositing two mites into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4). Here is where we pick up the story of the widow’s mite(s).

A mite was the smallest coin in value and in size. The treasury was located in the Court of Women of the temple, where stood thirteen receptacles for collecting temple tribute and voluntary charitable offerings. Each receptacle was trumpet-shaped–narrow at the bottom and wide at the mouth. Affixed labels on each receptacle identified the type of donation.

Although sacred donations are supposed to be between the giver and the Lord, the metallic receptacles were situated in a public place so that every contribution was accompanied by a loud clanking sound. Every person in the courtyard could hear the giver dropping in his coins, and often eyes would turn toward the sound. This environment provided fertile ground for praise seekers. Donors who sought public acclaim could purchase more than Jehovah’s approbation by making a substantial contribution of heavy coinage. It was simply good for business and good for the image for a person to be seen as a generous and a devout temple-goer.

Perhaps that hypocrisy had drawn Jesus’ rebuke on an earlier occasion when he chastised those who “sound a trumpet” and give their alms (contributions to the poor) to be seen of men. Such people, he said, traded God’s reward for the praise and honor of men (Matthew 6:1-4). Not so with the widow. She had come so quietly that Jesus had to point her out to his disciples. Her two tiny mites would have landed in the treasury like feathers on cotton.

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