The Woman Who Held Nothing Back

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Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

(Mark 12:41–44 NIV)

Key Observation. Love God with everything you have and hold nothing back.

Understanding the Word

Jesus is teaching in the temple courts during the last week of his life. The Pharisees and the Sadducees have tried to trap Jesus in his words, but Jesus continues to evade their snares. In various ways in Mark 12, Jesus teaches that people must love God with their whole being. He cites the Shema, the basic creed of the Jews found in Deuteronomy 6:4–5. Jesus declares that it calls one to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Matt. 12:30). When asked about paying taxes to the Roman government, Jesus asks about the image found on Roman coins. He then tells the people to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and pay to God what is God’s (see Matthew 12:17). In so doing, he reminds them that all people are stamped with the image of God. Thus, we belong to God and owe God everything.

Shortly after this, Jesus sits down in the outer court of the temple and watches people throw their offerings into the collection box, which has a rams-horn–shaped funnel at the top of the box. Anyone listening to the sound that the coins made as they fell through the funnel would have an idea of how much money had been offered. The repeated clunking noises of the heavy coins of the wealthy would certainly contrast with the light and tinny noise of the two coins of the widow. Mark records that the widow’s coins are the very smallest denomination, worth less than two percent of a day’s wages. (That’s less than one dollar by today’s standards.) Yet this is all the poor widow has.

When Jesus witnesses this great sacrifice, he realizes that she is the perfect example of his teaching a few minutes earlier. She loves God with everything she has, holding nothing back. For the wealthy, it would be easy to give the required portion to God and think that is enough; they could do whatever they wanted with the rest. But Jesus advocates a life of total devotion to God. This does not mean that everyone should be poor. Rather, everyone should have an attitude of poverty; we must recognize that nothing we have is our own. It belongs to God and should be used in accordance with God’s will.

It probably is not lost on the disciples that Jesus had warned them a few minutes earlier about the teachers of the religious law, who “devour widows’ houses” (12:40). The religious leaders were supposed to protect and provide for the poor, but they took advantage of their ability to manage the estate of widows. They helped themselves rather than helped the poor. Jesus critiques their selfish attitude by holding up this poor woman as the epitome of virtue.

  • Why does the amount of your offering not matter as much as the spirit with which it is given?
  • Why is it sometimes difficult to have a sacrificial attitude?
  • What parts of your life are you tempted to hold back from God and why?

As a general rule, women had fewer rights, social status, and power than men in the ancient world in which the Bible was written. But Jesus regularly defied these social conventions, fulfilling his mission and purposes through faithful women and giving them dignity and purpose.

In this OneBook Daily-Weekly study, Suzanne Nicholson highlights the qualities of several women in the New Testament that Jesus asks all believers to possess: faithfulness, persistence, and a boldness to follow him even at great personal cost to ourselves. These stories help us to better understand not only our own calling, but the very nature of the gospel itself.

Get your copy of the Bible study and videos from our store here.

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Suzanne Nicholson (PhD) is professor of New Testament at Asbury University. She is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. She received a PhD in New Testament studies from the University of Durham. Her husband, Lee, is a youth pastor and together they have two children.

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