While Jesus is watching the offerings of the day deposited in the Temple treasury, a widow with nothing but two copper coins to her name offers them both up to God and a readymade Sunday school lesson is born. And here is the account’s beautiful and simple lesson: Jesus honors those who give both gladly and sacrificially from the heart. For it was not the size of the gift given or even the lack thereof that impressed Jesus. Jesus was impressed by an old widow, a woman who in this day had exactly zero prospects and hopes of being cared for, who was willing to offer the last hope of her life up to God in her whole and willing trust of him. In first-century Judea, there were no state sponsored welfare programs. The Jews were an occupied people and largely despised by the Romans. More importantly, ancient Israel operated under a patriarchal society structure that had only limited means to care for its poor, and so the elderly were primarily cared for by either living off their own wealth or by their children – usually a surviving son. And so this old woman, with no family to care for her, in essence laid down the last of her worldly hopes and prospects out of her full trust in God.
Though Jesus does not care about the size of a gift but of the heart behind it, he does remark about the magnitude of the widow’s gift. Note carefully his words to his disciples: “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” Jesus isn’t just saying that the widow has contributed more than any of the rich before her, but has contributed more than all of them combined. In giving her last two pennies, she has offered to God a treasure that is of infinite more worth. For it is not the pennies themselves, but the treasure from her heart she has offered that is of true and infinite value. Because the widow offered this money from her heart in complete and total surrender, they were two pennies from heaven, they were two pennies from a heart that already had grasped an inkling of the depth and breadth of the heart of God.
It is also important to notice the setting of this account. The retelling of the widow’s gift comes right on the heels of Jesus’ warning of the scribes: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Note the juxtaposition of this behavior going on within Jesus’ warning and the heart and actions of the widow. The evil scribes that Jesus describes obsessively seek wealth, even steal for it in order to spend their ill-gotten wealth to bring glory to themselves. But the widow seeks to give away all she has to bring glory to God. The former use God to absorb his glory for themselves, but the widow uses what little glory she is given to offer it wholly up to God. For the widow’s secret is that the joy she possess is beyond the bound of earthly wisdom and power. Her secret lies in knowing the love and grace that God has for her. Her glory rests in the joy she has for God in her heart – a heart that no matter the age can accomplish feats and overcome difficulties no other can overcome – even if such a great feat is offering two pennies to heaven.