Lesson of the widow's mite
For the 2009 movie, see The Widow's Might
The Widow's Might
The Widow's Might is a 2009 American independent Christian film set in modern-day Texas and the Old West. It has been praised for its creative and fresh style of presenting the story it tells...


The Lesson of the widow's mite is presented in the Synoptic Gospels
Synoptic Gospels
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are known as the Synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and sometimes exactly the same wording. This degree of parallelism in content, narrative arrangement, language, and sentence structures can only be...

 , in which Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 is teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem
Temple in Jerusalem
The Temple in Jerusalem or Holy Temple , refers to one of a series of structures which were historically located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the current site of the Dome of the Rock. Historically, these successive temples stood at this location and functioned as the centre of...

. The Gospel of Mark specifies that two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth a quadrans
The quadrans was a low-value Roman bronze coin worth one quarter of an as. The quadrans was issued from the beginning of cast bronze coins during the Roman Republic with three pellets representing three unciae as a mark of value...

, the smallest Roman coin. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage.

In the story, a widow donates two small coins, while wealthy people donate much more. Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant donations of the rich.

The KJV translation

In Jesus' times in Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

, the small copper coin was called a lepton; there actually were no coins called mites. However, there was a mite in the time of the King James translation. The denomination was well known in the Southern Netherlands. Both the duke of Brabant
Duchy of Brabant
The Duchy of Brabant was a historical region in the Low Countries. Its territory consisted essentially of the three modern-day Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Antwerp, the Brussels-Capital Region and most of the present-day Dutch province of North Brabant.The Flag of...

 and the count of Flanders
County of Flanders
The County of Flanders was one of the territories constituting the Low Countries. The county existed from 862 to 1795. It was one of the original secular fiefs of France and for centuries was one of the most affluent regions in Europe....

 issued them and they were sometimes imitated in the North. Originally, the Brabant mijt (maille in French) was 1/76 stuiver
The stuiver was a pre-decimal coin used in the Netherlands It was worth 16 penning or 8 duit. Twenty stuivers equalled a guilder.It circulated until the Napoleonic Wars...

, the Flemish mijt 1/48 stuiver. When the two areas were united under the dukes of Burgundy and later under the Habsburgs, the rate of the mijt was set at 1/32 stuiver. More important, they were the very smallest copper coins. By 1611, they were no longer minted, but they were still in circulation.

In the society of 1611, it was almost a social obligation to give a silver coin at church collections, for there were many framed money galleries and armored safes in churches that needed to be filled. Only the very poor could get away with giving a copper coin and only the desperately poor would give a copper coin as small as a mijt, as their social status could hardly sink any lower. A widow would in principle have to live without any income. The translator probably may have had a beggar and a contemporary widow in mind. All this would have been self-evident to the readers. All of the contributions of silver were made "to be seen of men" as noted below, not as contributions to the church.


Witnessing the donations made by the rich men, Jesus highlights how a poor widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...

 donates only two mites, the least valuable coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

s available at the time. But, Jesus observes, this sum was everything she had to her name, while the other people give only a small portion of their own wealth.

In earlier times, a number of Christians, especially the Gnostics, Ebionites
Ebionites, or Ebionaioi, , is a patristic term referring to a Jewish Christian sect or sects that existed during the first centuries of the Christian Era. They regarded Jesus as the Messiah and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites...

, Waldensians
Waldensians, Waldenses or Vaudois are names for a Christian movement of the later Middle Ages, descendants of which still exist in various regions, primarily in North-Western Italy. There is considerable uncertainty about the earlier history of the Waldenses because of a lack of extant source...

, and Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

s, argued that the passage is an encouragement to live in poverty, and not seek riches.

In the passage immediately preceding this in both gospel accounts, Jesus is portrayed as condemning the religious leaders who feign piety, accept honor from people, and steal from widows (perhaps feigning piety in order to gain the trust of widow
A widow is a woman whose spouse has died, while a widower is a man whose spouse has died. The state of having lost one's spouse to death is termed widowhood or occasionally viduity. The adjective form is widowed...

s, and thereby gain access to their assets). Although most Christians understand this as criticism of the actions of certain individuals, racist groups have historically argued that the passages in question justify anti-semitism
Antisemitism is suspicion of, hatred toward, or discrimination against Jews for reasons connected to their Jewish heritage. According to a 2005 U.S...

, particularly as the Gospel of Mark argues that severe punishment awaits those who follow such actions (Brown et al.).

Taken literally, the widow's donation of one mite could have been by obligation, because she could not have given any less. Following this reasoning, some interpreters suggest that Jesus sits down in judgment "opposite" (over against, in opposition to) the treasury; the lesson drawn emphasizes that, while people are impressed with the large sums that are put in, they did not notice that the Temple took half of what the "poor widow" had to live on. Connected with the passage about the destruction of the Temple that immediately follows it in both gospels , "there will not be left one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down", the lesson is then interpreted as promising the overthrow of any worship of God sustained by robbery
Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. At common law, robbery is defined as taking the property of another, with the intent to permanently deprive the person of that property, by means of force or fear....


A more likely interpretation has a different focus. Since in any case the woman would have been under no obligation to give the second mite, when she gave "all her living" she could not have given any more. Thus, the traditional interpretation of the passage is that God accounts the value of a gift not by how much is given, but by how much is kept back. Hence, the poor widow is counted as having given a great gift, having kept nothing for herself, while those who give out of their abundance but keep plenty for themselves are counted by God as having given very little. While the passage may or may not be an encouragement to live in poverty, it is certainly an encouragement to give generously.

Coming as it does immediately after the condemnation of the religious leaders of the day--who sought and enjoyed the praise of people while "devouring widows' houses"--there is also likely a second implication. When someone does something to be "seen of men" (Matthew 6:5, 23:5), they have their reward, as the rich who made an ostentatious show of their generosity. They certainly impressed each other and those watching. But it was the quiet "small" gift of the poor widow that impressed the Son of God. If we do our works to be seen of men, we have our reward. If we do our works as the poor widow, if we are wholeheartedly devoted to God instead of seeking the praise of people and instead of spending riches on our own pleasures, we will receive a far greater reward which He has for us.

See also

  • Coins of the Bible
    Coins of the Bible
    A number of coins are mentioned in the Bible, and they have proved very popular among coin collectors.Specific coins mentioned in the Bible include the widow's mite, the tribute penny and the thirty pieces of silver, though it is not always possible to identify the exact coin that was used.-Widow's...

  • Mite box
    Mite box
    The term mite box refers to a box that is used to save coins for charitable purposes. Contemporary mite boxes are usually made of cardboard and given out to church congregations during the Lenten season. The mite boxes are collected by the church and donations are given to the poor...

  • My two cents (idiom)
    My two cents (idiom)
    "My two cents" and its longer version "put my two cents in" is an American idiomatic expression, taken from the original English idiom expression: to put in "my two pennies worth" or "my tuppence worth." It is used to preface the tentative stating of one’s opinion...

  • New Testament
    New Testament
    The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

  • Tithe
    A tithe is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or compulsory tax to government. Today, tithes are normally voluntary and paid in cash, cheques, or stocks, whereas historically tithes were required and paid in kind, such as agricultural products...

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