Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17; Psalm 127; (or 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146); Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
“The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
What would we do with our last mite? Why not give it away? We could not buy anything with it anyhow. (See Greek below) Today’s Gospel has the memorable story of the widow’s mite. While all the rich people gave from their left over money, from their surplus discretionary funds, this widow gave from her want, from her poverty, all she had. Jesus praises her generosity and says that she has in effect given more than all the rich people. This story is often used in churches during stewardship drives, asking us to give till it hurts. Not a bad thing to do. The widow’s mite story in isolation can be used in this way. But today we do not have the story in isolation. It is the second part of the reading. In light of its introduction, using the story to speak of individual contributions is off message. In part one Jesus sets the stage. He speaks of those who love to be noticed in public, but in private “they devour the houses of widows.” (Mark 12:40) In this context the dilemma that causes the poor to be destitute in the first place is addressed. It would be noble to give the widow a meal so that she will not starve. Jesus does not. It would not solve the deeper cultural trouble. Jesus then, and also today, is asking us to do something about the systemic problem. Just because the solutions are all in the grey area should not make us shy away. It is a political matter as Franklin D. Roosevelt well knew. Those who say religion and politics should not mix are not hearing today’s Gospel message. Those who say religion and money should not mix should note that money, more than any other topic, is common in the teaching and parables of Jesus
What kind of money are we talking about here? Mark 12:41 says that the rich were putting in copper coins in large amounts. Oh, the sound and jingle they made. The word used here does not tell us the value of each coin, only that they were copper or perhaps bronze. Mark 12:42 says the widow put in two leptons (what the King James Version calls mites). A lepton is equal to 1/2 quadrans or 1/128 of a denarius. In other words, one would need 128 of these for a single day’s pay of a common laborer. Even the whole day’s wage was not much, no minimum pay wage laws in those days. Her two coins tossed into the treasury bucket would hardly sound a thud.
Toss the mite away.
Free, free at last to trust God.
Grace is on the house.