“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on'” (Luke 21:1-4).
This short account illustrates at least three ways God sees things differently than men.
God Sees the Widow Differently Than Men
Jesus had just condemned the scribes, Jewish religious leaders highly respected for their knowledge of the law, “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Luke 20:47). “They will receive the greater condemnation,” the Lord declared. The wrongs they committed against the weak and vulnerable in society were all the more despicable because such were the very ones they should have cared for the most! God would have preferred they use their offering to provide for the impoverished widow rather than beautify the temple. These, who should be shepherds, were more like stalking wolves, watching this woman deposit her last cents and wondering when she might default on her loans so that they could be legally entitled to greedily gobble up her remaining assets (cf. 2 Kings 4:1-7; Micah 3:1-3).
The Lord saw the widow very differently, as one to be praised, to be blessed, and to be cared for. Jesus knew her life’s story; he knew her poverty; he knew her plight. She walked away with nothing: not a penny, not a husband (nor children, likely, if we may judge by her total destitution), not the compassion of those in charge of her soul. She had nothing to show for a lifetime of toil. Yet Jesus does not pass over the devotion of a poor, despised person, though all the world does. She walked away with nothing… except what was most important: the favor of God upon her.
God Sees Offerings Differently Than Men
The rich put sizeable gifts into the offering box, and, knowing their character (Luke 20:46), they most likely made a spectacle of it in their never-ending pursuit of self-exaltation. Indeed, observers tend to be impressed by wealth and material grandeur, as the disciples in the following verse, who “were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings” (Luke 21:5).
In stark contrast, Jesus proclaims, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3). “More” has nothing to do with amount. To the One who owns all, two million dollars would seem as puny as two pennies. No; God seeks the devotion of the heart. The rich put in out of their abundance, so their gift required no sacrifice. The poor widow put in the value of her last meager meal and threw herself on the mercy of God. What the rich ruler of Luke 18:18-25 was unwilling to do –give all– the widow did. In her heart was 100% devotion and 100% trust, and whether we are rich or poor, God will accept no less from us.
God Sees Poverty Differently Than Men
For many people today, poverty has replaced sin as the great evil to combat in the world. It is as if the poor cannot live fulfilled or valuable lives unless they improve their financial and social status.
Did Jesus cure this woman’s poverty? Though in gospel accounts he went about healing many illnesses, we have no record of him providing sudden financial boons to the poor. We can certainly anticipate that God took care of this woman in some way (2 Corinthians 9:6-11), and if she became a Christian, she would enter a community that provided generously for those with physical needs among them (Acts 4:34-35; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15). But ultimately, because of her heart before God, the widow was in a more advantageous position than the rich with all their abundance, for she enjoyed the Lord’s approval (Luke 16:9). If our mistaken ideas about the necessity of material wealth have not yet been rebuked by the Son of God’s deliberate choice to be born into the family of a poor carpenter, nor yet by Jesus’ teaching on possessions (Luke 12:15ff), then may this story topple them finally. The poor (just like the rich) need the gospel long before they need money.