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The Widow’s Mite

HomeChristianity and the BibleThe Widow’s Mite

In Mark 12 we find Jesus watching people put money into the temple treasury. He used the opportunity to teach His disciples a lesson. Here’s the text:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

How much money?

I’ve been asked how much the widow’s offering is worth today. There are at least two problems with the question. First, it entirely misses Jesus’ point. The widow’s offering was a sacrifice, while the offerings of others were apparently not. She would suffer hardship for putting everything she had into the treasury, and Jesus pointed to the sacrifice, not the amount.

Second, the question entirely misses the point… again. As followers of Jesus, the modern equivalent is irrelevant. We’re not to count our money and compare with the widow. Jesus already compared her money with the money of other givers. Jesus’ point had to do with the widow’s intentions… with the position of her heart toward God. In giving to God, she held nothing back.

Anyway, how much was it?

In Greek, Mark 12:42 says that she put in two leptas. The word means “small” or “thin,” so the widow’s money clearly didn’t amount to much. The text doesn’t indicate a specific coin, and there were many different coins she could have given.

Two leptas amount to a kodrantes. Clear as mud, right? A kodrantes was the least valuable Roman coin, also known as a quadrans. In the first century, a kondrantes was 1/64th of a denarius, which was fair pay for a day’s wage. It seems inaccurate to say that she dropped in two pennies, which is how the KJV and RSV do it. The NLT simply says “two small coins,” which seems best.

It’s hard to compare monies, but here are some simple calculations in American dollars based on “fair pay for a day’s wage” today:

$9/hour * 8 hours = $721/64th = $1.12
$11/hour * 8 hours = $881/64th = $1.38
$13/hour * 8 hours = $1041/64th = $1.63
$15/hr * 8 hours = $1201/64th = $1.88

Safe to say she gave two coins… it’s not precise, but Jesus’ point seems to be that she was poor and she gave all she had, so the actual conversion rate isn’t relevant. The question really isn’t how much someone else gives, but about the condition of our own hearts toward God. The New Testament teaches a system of stewardship, where all that we have belongs to God, and we are only caretakers of His resources.

This includes money, of course… and everything else. Our time, our bodies, our interest… it all belongs to God, who entrusted those things to us. We are wise when we invest God’s resources in accomplishing God’s mission.

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One response to “The Widow’s Mite”

  1. Richard Parkinson says:

    Rev Gary Davis song with harmonica: Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand

    “if you cannot give a thousand, you can give a widow’s mite,
    do the least you do for Jesus, will be precious in His sight,
    Won’t you hold to His hand? God’s unchanging hand,
    build your hope in things eternal”

    He was a blind NYC street-singing gospel preacher I met in the early 70s

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