In contrast to the leadership's pride and hypocrisy come the simple actions of a poor widow. She also stands tall in contrast to the rich who are passing by and contributing to the temple treasury. While noting the rich who give in passing, Jesus draws attention to a poor widow who puts two very small copper coins into the treasury. These two coins, lepta, were the smallest coins possible. They were worth about 1/100 of a denarius, or five minutes' labor at minimum wage! Hers is a minimal gift, at least on the surface.
Nonetheless, Jesus calls it the greatest gift. She "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." This last phrase can be translated "out of her poverty put in all her living" (ek tou hysterematos autes panta ton bion). The contribution really came from "all that remained of her life." Jesus' point is not so much to rebuke others' contributions as to exalt a contribution that otherwise would have been underappreciated.
Sometimes little gifts cost a great deal more than big gifts do, and their merit is in the sacrifice they represent. In fact, real giving happens when one gives sacrificially. Interestingly, research has shown that when people's income increases their proportion of charitable contributions tends to drop. We tend to give less the more we are blessed. How would Jesus assess this trend?
In contrast to the scribes' pride and hypocrisy stands this woman who has sacrificed out of her life to honor God. So Jesus says, "Beware of the scribes, but follow this widow." When God measures the life of service, he does not just count, he weighs.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.