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November 15, 2006


Fr Martin Fox

Our Lord's praise for her response of faith does not answer the question of what he thought of a social system in which she had so little. So if the "corban" critique applies, it applies not to her, but to those who might have ensured she had more than two small coins.

Our Lord may well have made that point; but the sacred authors, according to divine providence, did not present the matter in that fashion -- at least, not explicitly in this passage.


I agree that it seems unlikely that Jesus was criticizing the widow. In fact, this interpretation suggests to me a general tone-deafness for Jesus' teaching and biblical teaching in general, especially regarding the poor and widows.

I can't think of any passage in the gospels in which Jesus speaks critically or with disapproval of the poor, as opposed to the rich who oppress them. I'm not sure I can think of any scriptural passage that does so.

Given Jesus' positive appraisals elsewhere of giving up everything for the sake of the kingdom (e.g., his command to the rich young man; the parable of the pearl of great price), it seems most natural to understand Jesus as praising the widow's faith and sacrificial devotion.

Eileen R

Hmmm... I'm wondering. Weren't there widows who lived at the Temple?


Our Lord's praise for her response of faith does not answer the question of what he thought of a social system in which she had so little. So if the "corban" critique applies, it applies not to her, but to those who might have ensured she had more than two small coins.

If (a) the widow had grown children and (b) those children had invoked the corban tradition to avoid supporting their mother, then Jesus' corban critique would be applicable to her situation.

However, I don't see that there is any evidence supporting either (a) or (b).

Our Lord may well have made that point; but the sacred authors, according to divine providence, did not present the matter in that fashion -- at least, not explicitly in this passage.



This is an interesting take, but I have to say, I'm with Jimmy and the others here. I don't see how you can get disapproval out of this; if you include Judas's "What a waste! Surely all this could have been spent on the poor!" and Jesus's response, then I think what you have is a condemnation of those who tut-tut loudly over other people's spending (with no indication that they themselves are going to be giving away their money charitably).


...she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.

I tend to go with the literal interpretation of this passage; that she did put in everything she had, just as Jesus said.

I mean, is that any different than what St. Francis did?

St. Francis gave away all his riches in his day (that is, everything he had) and gave up a life of wealth for that of poverty; and left his care to the hands of God!

His trust of God then reminds me of the passages in Scripture, in Matthew 6:26-30:

26 Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?
27 And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?
28 And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin.
29 But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.
30 And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?


I think it's important to keep in mind that the context doesn't just include the lines of the Gospel surrounding the passage, but the whole Bible. There's good reason why one of the readings paired with it last Sunday had the widow and Elijah.

For those who weren't there / don't remember: Elijah is travelling, asks for water from a widow, she says she'll bring him a cup. Then she asks her for a piece of bread, and she swears in the name of God (recognizing Elijah as His prophet) that she has no bread. She is gathering sticks to cook her last handful of flour and oil up for herself and her son, and then they'll starve. The upshot is that he tells her that God will not let the flour or oil run out for the sake of helping a prophet - she makes bread, and the oil and flour don't run out for days and days, until the crops come.

The parallel would make the Gospel's widow appear to be making an extraordinary act of devotion and trust in God's provision. As in the post above, sounds like St Francis.


I have to admit, I was a bit surprised that of all the passages in the Bible, one such as this would be up for debate.

I'm no scholar, but Our Lord seems to be praising a poor widow for her selfless contribution to the glory of God. A person with such faith as the Widow's obviously believe's so strongly in God's love for her that she is willing to put her entire life in His hands. The trust this woman possessed is the same trust of the martyrs and all the saints.

Ed Peters

I'm with Kris. If this text means the opposite of what it sure seems to say to me, then I'm outta here (Scripture studies, that is) and I'll hide myself in the thickets of the law. There, I am a forester.


Ed Peters,

There, I am a forester.

Is a forester like a ranger in the LOTR?

Should we call you Stryder?

Take care and God bless,

Brian John Schuettler

I agree with Kris and Ed...if this one is difficult to get then forget the real tough ones! I, too, will surrender my scripture studies. This is a classical example of what can go seriously wrong with exegetical excess.

Deacon (To Be) Stephen Bowling

Oh - so totally cool! You went Thomas More on us!

The more I read and study him the more I realize how wise and timely his words were!

I have to tend towards a slightly less literal interpetation of the specific phrase here that seems as the heart of the issue: "everything she had, her whole living."

Pax Vobis Cum

I don't think we can reasonably infer that the term "her whole living" can emphatically necessarily represent her absolute last red cents, to the point of her starving herself or putting herself into destitution. Such might be possible, but the passage does not record such or not. Indeeed, a more reasonable approach would be to indicate (using modern terminology) her rent may have been paid, and she had what was in her cupboard, but the remainder of what little income she recieved, she gave to God. Nothing for herself beyond the basic necessities of life did she now have.

It seems reasonable that if she were in fact tithing herself into destitution, Jesus' remarks would have perhaps been a bit more clear regarding such, indeed if that were the point he wished to make. As the Gospel passage goes no furth into such a direction, it seems reasonable to presume the intention was just as it appears.

At lease that's how I see it.

Jared Weber

It would seem that, in every era, we have an example of the type of leap of faith exhibited by the widow. For a modern day example, examine Danny Thomas who gave his last dollar to the Church, trusting that God would bless his offering. He did, indeed, and Thomas would go on to become a big star and to found St. Luke's Children's Hospital.


Perhaps we can distinguish between currency and the ability to support oneself.

The widow may have contributed all the money she had on hand - that does not mean that she no longer had a way to support herself. I don't know how dependent the culture was on currency (obviously they used it). But there are other means by which one can acquire the necessities of life.

Even so, if I were to give away all my money, I still have a way to support myself by selling my labor. So even if she did give away all she had, that might not mean that she acted contrary to the moral obligation to stay alive.


I am not Catholic so if some of my comments are not exactly according to RC theology, exegesis, etc, please forgive me!

I think Jesus is trying to teach a lesson and is not in this case, at least the writer makes not mention of it in the text - concerned with corban or with what the Talmud clearly states regarding not purposefully being a burden to other. This might be a bit clearer if
we look at this gospel text starting at verse 38, rather than verse 41.(MK 12.38-44)

Now we hear Jesus speaks of the scribes: "Beware of the scribes...they like to devour widow's houses..." Then Jesus moves to the Treasury and shows the truth in his words as he watches the widow give to the treasury all she had to live on.

Jesus says the scribes like to show off, be greeted with respect, have the best seats...Jesus accuses them of exploiting the widow - something that was against the Law of Moses and condemned by the prophets – but the reality of the situation was different – Jesus clearly says so when he accuses the scribes of devouring the widow’s houses and he show us the truth of what he says when the widow comes to the Treasury.

Maybe there are several things Jesus is trying to teach us.
1. We must not exploit the widow or the poor.
2. We should not ever give from our excess, or just for show.
3. The widow is presented as poor and humble. Perhaps Jesus wants us to see her as someone who gives of her “real wealth” – out of her poverty – unlike those who give little out of their “dishonest wealth” (Cf. Lk 16.10-11) The widow shows a reversal of values – exactly what Jesus is always preaching – he stands the world on its head.

Francis of Assisi took point 3 and made it his own. While Francis really had no wealth of his own – it was his fathers money, fabrics, cloth, that he gave away – he nevertheless shows us that as son of Peter Bernardone, he is one of the inheritor of this legacy – and he wants no part of it. He denies his father and claims God as Father. Francis took Jesus’ reversals of values and made them his values.

Ed Peters

btw, most widows in the ancient world lived on charity, rather like street people today live on charity (without the possible stain of being druggies or whatever). thus the widow could well have given her last pennies instead of saving them for some bread later in the day, knowing that she might not eat that night at all, or the next day, etc., but wanting to relieve those whose suffering was worse than hers.

as Mother Teresa once remarked, Charity is measured not by how much one gives, but by how much one holds back. you can apply that in real lfie in ots of wasy, obviously, but MT pretty clearly is taking her cue from the widow.


We need to be clearer about the meaning of the words “but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living."

Jesus is clearly qualifying his own words here. He qualifies the words “everything she had” with “her whole living.” She obviously did not put in everything she had. She presumably left the area still wearing clothes. So Jesus is saying that what he means by “everything she had” is precisely “her whole living.”

What is “her whole living” then? (Other translations say “her whole livelihood” but the meaning is the same.) Well, there could be many answers to this, but usually when we refer to someone’s living we refer to their salary. The woman has put her whole salary into the treasury – her wages.

Therefore, the woman has sacrificed her very ability to feed herself for the day, meaning she is also likely fasting for the Lord.

This is the example Jesus is holding up for us. And it requires no resort to “hyperbole” as an explanation to understand it.

My Cat's Name Is Lily

I read this with a personal view: My great-grandmother was, for years, the sole support of the family. (She was not a widow--yet--but my great-grandfather was dying of black lung disease). She worked for an average wage of 5 cents a day, & fed her family (herself, 4 children & an invalid husband) with that.
Now, she also put money in the offering plate on Sunday, & I suspect her offering was very like the widow's mite in value. And, I suppose, some people might have been critical of her giving from her want.
However--and here, I think, we get to the comparison of the two cases: Grandma also knew that she had work to go to, & that she had the health & strength to work more & earn more. I would think that the same was true of the widow of Scripture: Poor she may have been, but she knew she could work & earn enough to live on. She may have well been, like my great-grandmother, planning on eating bread & drinking water that night, but there was no reason to think that this was likely to kill her, any more than it would be for any of us .
The lady in the Bible also had the benefit of the "gleaning" system: She was a widow, & widows had the right to go into any field in the countryside, follow along behind the workers, & pick up the grain that was left. It was hard work, but it was also food--and food which took no money at all, simply a strong back & the humility to take advantage of this ancient form of charity.
We need not, after all, assume that "poor widow" equals "elderly & infirm widow". Like Ruth of the Old Testament, she might well have been young & healthy. It may have been all the money in her pocket; that does not make her suicidal. It simply means that--unlike those who abused the system of corban--this widow was willing to give to those in worse conditions than she.....
(It often happens, you know, that those who are poor themselves are more generous than those who have to hang onto the payment on the Rolls, or the tickets to Paris).

Mary Kay

Like several others, I think someone is making this passage more difficult than it needs to be.

Perhaps I need to read all of the above more closely, but it seems to uphold the interpretation that I hear most often, which was that the widow gave back to God first, didn't say "well I need this to live on."

As for giving away all of her material support, there is at least one lay community where the members to that.

J.R. Stoodley

I don't know what community Mary Kay is refering to, but it makes me think of the original Franciscans.

I'm also reminded of the idea I've heard that when you are in dire poverty the best thing to do is to give away what little you still own, trusting that God will take care of you, and he generally will. I also think of a novel I read where a poor Indian woman gives away her last coin to a hungry family and then starves to death. She was going to starve anyway and she knew it, but chose to use her last bit of money to help someone who may live out the famine rather than to buy a last meal for herself.

Obviously it takes prudence and discernment to know if you are in a situation like this, and normally you should not just give away everything on a whim, but I could see the widow's situation being like any of these three examples, or perhaps something else I'm not thinking of. In any case I don't think you have to resort to saying she was doing something wrong or that it wasn't really her whole livelihood.

J.R. Stoodley

I'm a bussy student (which is why I havn't been reading or posting on this blog much for the last few months) so I skipped reading all but a couple posts in this combox before posting that. However I then decided to procrastinate just a little more and skim over some of the other responces, and I'm afraid some others have said much of what I did. Oh well, sorry.

J.R. Stoodley

Sorry about the spelling too. Darn I hate homework.

Milt Lance

I am with Leah above. Jesus was against the scribes way of living, stealing and showing off. If you go into the next chapter you will see that here He finished His comments after remarks were made about the beautiful workmanship on the building they had just exited. That all the stones would be torn down. He showed the example of this fruitless religion when he destroyed the fig tree and what He did to it, He would do to the religious thieves of the day. He was GRAVELY UPSET with the way His Fathers temple was run.

This was an example of having your living devoured by religion. Then He mentioned how He was bringing the system down. He hates religious cons. And they are still in abundance at this time. Mark 11:11-Mark 13:2. This is all one teaching. Read it over and over, meditate on it.

He didn't like it then. He doesn't like it now.
What got the widow into this trouble? The doctrine of the scribes.

Mark 12:41 Many were putting in out of their abundance. Why would she (the widow ) put in ALL OF HER LIVING? A doctrine based on 'your blessing from God depends on how much you give'. Does this sound familiar?
Do you think Jesus knows the old testament. He is asking 'where does it say in the old testament that they should give all of their existence. And the rich casts enough to open the eyes of the poor but it is out of ABUNDANCE ONLY.
This is not old testament, which they were living in at that time. A percentage is old testament.
What Jesus really wants is you. He doesn't want your money so much as He wants YOU.
Jesus never says only 10% of your life follow me.
He says all of you belong to Me. We are joint heirs of His. We were bought with a price. Our life is not our own. www.garycarpenter.org-
hear it at the audio of The Widows Mite.


This was an example of having your living devoured by religion.

He didn't like it then. He doesn't like it now.

A doctrine based on 'your blessing from God depends on how much you give'. Does this sound familiar?


No one had stated what you have said above!
You are putting words into people's mouths here.

By the way, if you are so well-versed in Scripture, why not take a look at the following passage in Scripture where Jesus even told the rich man TO SELL WHATEVER HE HAD AND GIVE TO THE POOR!!

You are being QUITE SELECTIVE of the Bible verses you bring up!

Luke 18: 22-25
22 Which when Jesus had heard, he said to him: Yet one thing is wanting to thee. Sell all whatever thou hast and give to the poor: and thou shalt have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.
23 He having heard these things, became sorrowful: for he was very rich.
24 And Jesus seeing him become sorrowful, said: How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God
25 For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Jamie Beu

Our pastor brought up the point that the offering of the widow was not that she was giving to the Temple (because the passage before criticizes just that attitude that "steals from widows") - rather, the widow is being praised for realizing, after Jesus' words, that those hypocrites needed her sacrificial offering more than she needed those 2 coins.

The main point of the lesson is suffering for the sake of others - when we sacrifice, we can do it for the good of others, not just for our own good.

Paul Hoffer

There is no such thing as a corban/korban/qorban rule. After going through the earlier argument on James White's corban claims, my research has me convinced that what Jesus was really criticizing the particular Pharisees that showed up in Mark 7 and Matt. 15: 1-20 for was their refusal to relax their sola scriptural interpretation of Num. 30:2 and Deut. 23:21-23 (see also Judges 11:29-40)which made it a commandment that vows no matter how rash could not be annulled. At the time of Jesus, the two schools of Pharisees-bet Hillel and bet Shammai-were disputing whether the sages had the authority to release a person from a vow. One school said yes, the other said no because Scripture forbade it. Ultimately, the Pharisees of bet Hillel won out as reflected in the Mishna (Nedarim 9) and it was determined that a person could be released from their vow and fulfill his obligation to support his parents. Thus, Jesus was interjecting Himself into a Pharisaical debate and was actually criticizing the Pharisees of one school for their refusal to agree with another school's tradition of the elders just like he did in Matt. 19.

If Jesus had truly condemned corban vows as suggested here, why was St. Paul carrying out one himself in Acts 21?


Since the discussion involves scripture, I am assuming commentary on the widow's mite via the historical Jesus movement is appropriate. If not I apologize in advance. It will be a single commentary.( "Hobby horsing"? Not really, just information for those that might be interested.)

As per most HJ studies, the story of the widow's mite has been judged not to be from the historic Jesus. 264-. Widow's Mite: (1) Mark 12:41-44 = Luke 21:1-4; single attestation from the second stratum 60-80 AD

Is the widow's mite situation an important lesson?? Yes indeed!!!!

caine thomas

Wealth and possessions are relative and relatively meaningless to Christ's message here. Sometimes exegesis and what not can confuse things way too much. This is simply an extension of the "poor in spirit" beatitude through tangible example.

A. Those who had much gave a small part of themselves overtly, and with self-praise. That's not good!
B. She who had little gave all in humility out of submission to God. That is good.

How do you reconcile the reckless gift with common sense living? You don't! It's a mystery. Living the Gospel in the world is a struggle of compromises, but we should never see the compromise as the ideal. Totus tuus is.

This is Little Flower living. Even if our total giving of self appears reckless and irresponsible - even stupid! - through the eyes of the world, that's not what God sees. Francis is a good example and so is Peter.

Reckless faith rarely has much in common with sound worldly decision making. Humility should remind us that we are almost exclusively stupid in the ways of God! Jesus tells us to give our whole selves to the Father. If we do stupid things in our attempts, thats par for the course. If it looks like we're letting our lives fall apart in our blind lunges for Jesus, we're in good company.

40: But Martha was distracted with much serving; and she went to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."

41: But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;

42: one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."


I think the widow's mite story illustrates the fact that tithing a fixed percentage of income is not required of a Christian. Instead, as the fundamental law of the church dictates, we are to contribute to the needs of the church according to our means. Only God and the giver know what that is. Tithing a fixed percentage has several evils: (1) the person who tithes thinks he has "done enough" and may become presumptious and complacent. (2) a person who tithes will look upon someone who does not, and think that he is superior to the non-tither. That sort of judgmental conduct is not appropriate. Tithing is an external show off thing, and Jesus unfailingly condemned those people who make a public display of their religiosity.

Bob Farrell

I'm no scholar, but I always thought the widow's mite was a reinforcement of the "Elijah-starving widow" lesson of 1 Kings 17:10-16. Another "do not be afraid" moment.

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