Some people think Jesus was criticizing the poor widow, or at least he was criticizing the world in which she was trying to live. Some people think Jesus was frowning upon her offering. They say she was blindly giving to institutional religion – letting the scribes get the best of her – when she should have been taking care of herself.
I think this is wrong. I think Jesus is commending her for her self-giving sacrifice. The poor widow was giving us a glimpse of what Jesus soon would do. She put in everything she had, all she had to live on. Jesus was about to give all he had.
This story should be paired with the story of the woman in Mark 14 who anointed Jesus for burial. There, a woman also gave an extravagant gift to God and pointed ahead toward Jesus’ death on the cross. And there, too, the woman was directly contrasted with evil. The poor widow was contrasted with the scribes (Mark 12:38-40). The woman with the ointment was contrasted with Judas (Mark 14:10-11).
In the middle of all of this was Jesus’ prediction of the end of the age in Mark 13. So the flow goes like this: Evil men (scribes) – self-giving woman (poor widow) – Jesus’ prophecy – self-giving woman (anointing woman) – evil man (Judas). I find this compelling.
Another interesting feature in Mark is the calling of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had a habit of calling his disciples to himself so he could show them something important. Recently, Jesus had called his disciples to himself to teach them on three occasions. And in all three of those occasions, Jesus taught them about self-giving sacrifice – Mark 8:34; Mark 9:35; Mark 10:42-45. Please read those three passages. See what they have in common?
Jesus was calling his disciples’ attention to what it meant to follow him. Take up your cross. Be the servant of all. Be the slave of all.
And in Mark 12, Jesus called his disciples to himself again – this time directing their attention to the poor widow. This is what it looked like – to give everything. This is what devotion to God entails.
Are you prepared for this? Is this what you signed up for when you became a Christian? I wonder how many of us actually understand this when we enter the waters of baptism.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives us this: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” That entire passage – Luke 14:25-33 – is worth reading right now. I think it’s one of the easiest passages in Scripture to understand. Jesus speaks very plainly. But it’s also one of the hardest passages to accept. Have we renounced all we have? Is there a way to reason our way out of that demand?
This is the call of Christ. It is a hard call – to leave everything in order to follow, to give our last two copper coins and not yet see how we’ll go on living. This is tough stuff.
(Please understand, Jesus isn’t necessarily saying we should abandon our families or our jobs or all of our possessions. But he is setting an unquestionably high bar for allegiance. Where is our allegiance? If push came to shove, if the request came, how would I respond?)
If you are reading this, it is likely that you already are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You’ve already made the decision. You are following in your own way. You may just be starting out on the journey, or you may be well down the road. But you are coming after him.
The key is to just keep following, no matter what. It does require trust. The poor widow had to trust God to care for her needs. It also requires perseverance. The temptation will be to let up, to grab something for ourselves along the way.
Some questions for your day: How can you better serve those around you today? Are there some things you need to set aside – to renounce – in order to be a servant of all?