How often do widows come up in the Gospels? Surprisingly, a lot! The most famous widow’s story is found at the end of Mark 12. At first, what Jesus appears to do (and not do) causes many readers to wince.
1. Religious leaders may have cheated this particular widow out of her rightful property.
Mark 12 takes place in the crucible of Jerusalem only a few short days before Jesus lies down His life.
A group of religious leaders called Sadducees confront Jesus one last time. Up to this point, everything Jesus has said and done has shown how seriously wrong the Sadducees are. Why is Jesus so opposed to them? The Sadducees didn’t believe in anything supernatural. They didn’t believe in angels, miracles, judgment, resurrection, or the afterlife. To say the least, the Sadducees had no love for the Lord. They also felt repulsed by the common people. Proof? Their favorite joke made a mockery of childless widows (Mark 12:18-27).
Early in our marriage, Renée and I were asked to lead our first home Bible study. When we said yes, we were asked who we wanted in our group. We looked at each other and said, “That’s easy. We want a living room full of widows.” That was an amazing, wonderful year full of wisdom as we learned from nearly a dozen godly, lovely, and loving widows.
Sadly, not everyone loves widows. The Sadducees and other religious leaders controlled the judicial system, which barred women. When a woman’s husband died, therefore, she couldn’t do anything to protect her family’s property from being seized “legally.” How wicked. Jesus condemned these religious scam artists in no uncertain terms (Mark 12:38-40).
That’s not all.
2. Her neighbors neglected their obligation to help poor widows.
In biblical times, loving your neighbor meant giving to the homeless and poor on a regular basis, especially widows. How?
First, by inviting them to join your family for every holiday feast (Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Deuteronomy 16:10-14, and Deuteronomy 26:11). Second, by sharing part of your wealth with them every third year (Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and Deuteronomy 26:12-13).
Third, by leaving part of your crops for them to glean during each and every harvest (Leviticus 19:9-10, Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 16:19-20, and Deuteronomy 24:19-21). We see this intricately woven into the story of Ruth who, after her husband’s death, temporarily experienced homelessness and poverty (Ruth 2:2-3, Ruth 2:15-16, and Ruth 2:19-23).
What we sometimes miss in the Gospels: Jesus and His disciples gave alms to the poor regularly and routinely. It’s what all godly, good-hearted Jewish people did. Sadly, however, the poor widow of Mark 12 had been neglected by relatives and overlooked by neighbors.
All she has left are two mites.
3. She gave all she had three days before Jesus gave His life.
I can imagine the poor widow of Mark 12:41-44 contemplating the promises of God as she walks toward the Temple that Tuesday, just three days before our Lord Jesus gave His all for us on the cross.
As she walks into the Women’s Court in front of the Temple, I can imagine the widow carefully carrying her small purse, contemplating what she is about to do. As Jesus watches, she stops in front of a funnel-shaped offering receptacle. She reaches out her hand and drops in her last two small bronze coins.
Jesus knew this widow well. Yes, it’s true, He knows all widows. And…