Throwing Pennies at God

You know the story of the widow’s mite?  How Jesus said this widow throwing her last two pennies into the collection box was more faithful than those putting in large amounts from their wealth?  I always read the story and assumed that the widow was giving her last two pennies out of reverence.  But lately, I’ve realized that I’ve been that woman throwing her last coins into the Salvation Army bucket.  And it wasn’t often done out of reverence.  When I was younger, I might put my penny in so I wouldn’t feel bad about walking past the bucket without putting anything in.  Sometimes I did put my last coins in as a way of saying, “I know it’s not much, but it’s what I’ve got.  I’ll just trust you to provide the increase.”  A few times though, I put my last coins in as an act of protest and complaint; “You want everything?  Fine take my last pennies.  I do my best, I trust in you and I get left with nothing but a couple of pennies.”

Research has found that poorer people give more of their money away than others.  A lot of that is because the amounts given as often so small that you weren’t going to do much with the money anyways.   It occured to me that maybe the widow wasn’t so sanguine about her life and her struggles either.  Two copper coins wasn’t worth much.   It would barely have bought food for one meal.  And then what?  Maybe that widow too had been walking this path for too long.  Maybe she was more broken than obedient and was throwing those copper pieces as a form of defiance and challenge to God?  Maybe that was exactly what Jesus saw her doing when he praised her action.  I know that if at one of those moments, God had praised those pennies I threw at him, it would have meant everything to me.

Maybe Jesus knew she was discouraged and angry when she put those coins in.  But at least she was throwing them in the right direction.  Even if it was done as a compaint, at least it showed that she believed strongly enough in God’s power to be upset at its seeming absence in her life.  What if it was a challenge to God to show himself.  To remind the world of what He was capable of.  And Jesus was there to see it.

So often we think God needs to be handled with kid’s gloves.  That we cann0t challenge, protest or complain because God doesn’t need our input.  But what if that’s not the way God sees it?  What if he’s just waiting for us to throw our pennies at him.  To say that we’ve had enough.  We’re ready for him.  The time to move has come.  What if God’s just waiting for us to be fed up enough with the mess we’ve made to invite him in.  Maybe we need to reach that point in order to be willing to let Him move the way He has planned instead of demanding it be done the way we would prefer.

*It’s a repeat from December 2011. Hopefully I’ll get something new out soon.

5 thoughts on “Throwing Pennies at God

  1. The gospel of Mark frequently employs a literary strategy where three sequential episodes are all related. There is an alternate interpretation of the widow’s offering that takes into account the possibility that the episode prior to and after the offering episode are related. (Mark 12:38-40; 12:41-44; 13:1-2)

    The episode prior is Jesus’ condemnation of the rich, ruling elites of the Jewish nation. He condemns their show and pretense, and condemns how they devour widows’ houses. The mention of “widows” ties this episode to the next.

    The next episode is where Jesus sits and watches people coming to give offerings at the temple. This episode is partly an example of what Mark just finished writing about. By this example Mark is showing, through Jesus’ actions and words, how the rich and religious have impoverished the widow, quite possibly by insisting that God’s demands come first, even if it means going without necessary means to support one’s basic needs. The rich and religious are condemned, too, because in their abundance they do nothing to offer practical assistance to the needs around them, but instead think they are serving God by offering funds to the temple.

    The setting of the temple ties the offering episode to the next. The disciples marvel at the temple but Jesus tells them that it will be utterly destroyed. In a real sense both the offering given by the rich as well as the widow will eventually turn into dust. It is interesting that in Mark 12:40 Jesus is quoted as saying, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” It is obviously comparing at least two groups, and the only two groups in the context are the wealthy scribes and the widows. It cannot be escaped that both groups will receive condemnation; it is just that the scribes will receive the greater condemnation for taking advantage of the widows.

    What is the condemnation? I believe it is seeing what will eventually happen to the offerings that are given. When the temple is destroyed, those who contributed more to it will receive the “greater condemnation”. But it does not exempt the widows. It may sound harsh, but I believe the point Mark is trying to make is that Jesus wants people to think about their actions and that blind obedience to religion and religious requirements is condemned.

  2. To be human is to be conflicted.
    I’ve learned that all human motives, including mine, are never pure and rarely simple. I suppose that is why St. Paul refused to judge himself (1 Corinthians 4:3), leaving that to the God who is “closer to us than our own hearts” and usually more merciful, also.

  3. I would urge you to reconsider how and why the widow gave.
    If we have read all of our Bible, the story of the widow’s mites, given in context of Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders, should make us cringe. The story reveals the repetition of their abuses and consequential inevitable judgment. If we continue to teach the story of the widow’s mites as an example of how to give, we are no better than the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day….and we will receive the same judgment.

    Mark 12:38-44
    “And in his teaching he said, ‘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.'”
    “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'”


    1. Jesus actually says NOTHING to commend the widow for what she did. Words of praise are ABSENT.
    2. Jesus’ statement is one of RELATING FACTS as He observes (She gave more than they all because she cast in all her living)
    3. Jesus says NOTHING about how the widow FELT about what she gave.
    4. The warning to beware of the scribes “who devour widows’ houses” in vs. 40 parallels Jesus’ use of a widow as His example.
    5. Jesus gave no instruction that constitutes a separate lesson apart from “Beware of the Scribes”, i.e., He did not tell the disciples “Go thou and do likewise.”
    6. If this were a lesson on giving, Jesus could have just as easily chosen a “poor man” as His example – or simply a “poor woman”, but He was very specific in His choice of “a poor widow.” This ties it to His criticism of the Scribes who He said were “devouring widows’ houses in vs. 40.

    Scripture repeatedly reveals God’s care for the widow, the poor, the fatherless and the stranger, and also reveals His anger at those who deprive them of what they need to live.
    Again, if we have read all of our Bible, the story of the widow’s mites, given in context of Jesus’ condemnation of the religious leaders, should make us cringe. The story reveals the repetition of their abuses and consequential inevitable judgment. If we continue to teach the story of the widow’s mites as an example of how to give, we are no better than the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day….and we will receive the same judgment.

    Most pastors take this story out of its context. It makes no sense that Jesus, who is in the middle of a warning to His disciples about the scribes devouring widows’ houses, would suddenly interrupt the lesson with a story on giving by poor widows. I believe that the story is part and parcel of His warning and an illustration of how the scribes were “devouring widows’ houses.”

    Additional food for thought: Jesus had just condemned the corrupt system of Judaism – if this is an example of how to give, and if we are to follow the widow’s example, we would be giving everything we have to corrupt, apostate religious institutions.

    It should be noted that the story, complete with Jesus’ warnings of the scribes, appears in Luke 20:46 – Luke 21:4 as well, but it is divided between two chapters. We need to keep in mind that the chapters and verses were not there in the original text and the divisions are not inspired; they weren’t added until much later.

    For a more thorough study on this issue please visit:
    Abusing the Poor, Part 1

    Abusing the Poor, Part 2

    The Truth About the Widow’s Gift Part 1
    The Truth About the Widow’s Gift Part 2

    Isaiah 1: 23, 24: “Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies.”
    Isaiah 3:14-15: “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’ declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.”
    Isaiah 10:1-3: “’Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?’”
    Ezekiel 22:6-7; 25, 27, 29, 31: “‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow….There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her…The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice…So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done,’ declares the Sovereign LORD.”
    Amos 5:11: “You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.”
    Malachi 3:5: “’So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,’ says the LORD Almighty”

    Matthew 23:14 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.”
    Mark 7: 9-13 “And he said to them: You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
    Mark 12: 38-40: “And he said to them in his doctrine, beware of the scribes…which devour widows’ houses…these shall receive greater damnation.”
    Luke 20: 46-47: “Beware of the scribes…which devour widows’ houses…the same shall receive greater damnation.”

    1. Well, it’s probably the church’s I have attended, but I’ve always heard this taught just the way you say – as a condemnation of the religious elites. But not all of us are all that powerful. I wrote this from the position of a poor, vulnerable, quasi-widow and as is often the case, Jesus’ words sound very different to the weak than to those who are comfortable and secure.

      1. I had never heard it that way until I heard George Greene’s explanation. It never made any sense to me that the poor would be giving what they needed to live on at the beginning of the month and have to go begging to the church at the end of the month. I grew up poor and my father gave 10% faithfully – but then we were never taught either that a man who doesn’t take care of his own is worse than an infidel. The church never helped us. I can see Jesus being angry with the Scribes for taking the widow’s last 2 cents. As someone on a fixed income myself who had always been taught by various church denominations that the widow was to be commended for what she did, and then seeing that Jesus did not praise her, but condemned the leaders, it made so much more sense. That part was always left out of any sermon I’d ever heard on the subject. Peace ~

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