[Jesus] also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
- Luke 21:2-4
The widow lived in poverty and, given the culture at the time, would likely have been dependent on the charity of others. Few would have expected her to give anything to the temple treasury. Some might have considered her generosity irresponsible.
Some commentators link this story to Jesus’ stern words about religious leaders who “devour widows’ houses.” They read this as Jesus’ criticism of the temple economics that lead poor widows to give their last two pennies. But historically Christians have read this passage differently, as a model of generosity.
Ambrose said: “Christ gave the opinion that the two mites of the widow were preferable to the gifts of the rich. God’s word preferred love joined with zeal and generosity rather than the lavish gifts of generosity.”
The widows’ generosity involved sacrifice. Even though she gave a smaller amount than others, by giving everything she had to live on she “put in more than all the others.”
Jesus didn’t equate the size of the gift with the significance of the gift.
There’s something about sacrificial generosity that’s particularly beautiful. Sacrificial gifts have a deeper significance than gifts that are given out of our surplus; the difference between someone giving you the shirt off their back and a shirt out of their closet.
Shortly after this scene, Jesus gave everything he had – his very life – for our sake, dying on the cross to rescue us from our bondage to sin. His sacrificial gift changes our lives, our community and our world. And he changes our practice of generosity, making us people who will sacrifice to do good for God’s sake.
When have you practiced sacrificial generosity? What was that experience like? How has that differed from your other generosity experiences?