A Closer Look At The Widow’s Offering: Mark 12:41-44 -- By: Geoffrey Smith

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 040:1 (Mar 1997)
Article: A Closer Look At The Widow’s Offering: Mark 12:41-44
Author: Geoffrey Smith

A Closer Look At The Widow’s Offering:
Mark 12:41-44

Geoffrey Smith*

The story of the widow’s offering as found in Mark 12:41–44 has long provided the Church with an example of humble devotion to the Lord. Further, it speaks to the people of God about the true nature of giving. Calvin considered this account as providing “a highly useful doctrine, that whatever men offer to God ought to be estimated not by its apparent value, but only by the feeling of the heart, and that the holy affection of him who, according to his small means, offers to God the little that he has, is more worthy of esteem than that of him who offers a hundred times more out of his abundance.” 1

The careful observer, however, will note a second theme in this account of the widow that intersects with the standard interpretation of the text. The second theme is the coming judgment upon the nation of Israel. It is an underlying theme throughout Mark’s gospel: The days of covenant-breaking Israel are numbered, and all that remains for what is left of the theocracy is covenant curse. As the gospel narrative moves forward, evidence for God’s lawsuit against his people accumulates (culminating in Israel’s leaders mocking and insulting the Messiah during his agony on the cross [15:31–32; cf. 12:1–12]). Simultaneously Mark has sprinkled a variety of hints (in the form of non-Israelites approaching Jesus with only their faith) that anticipate the saving reign of God transcending Israel’s frontiers into the world of the Gentiles (culminating in the [Gentile] centurion’s confession at the foot of the cross [15:39]).

Against this broader backdrop of redemptive-historical birth pangs it is appropriate to inquire as to why the account of the widow’s “mite” appears where it does. After all, the preceding verse (12:40) concludes Jesus’ public ministry in Mark’s account. 2 Is this a simple postscript? Is it one final lesson concerning the nature of true faith and piety, added to reinforce lessons previously given to the disciples? Given the placement of the pericope, coming as it does between the record of Jesus’ public ministry and the Olivet discourse, we should not hesitate to probe the account more deeply in order to see what riches it might yield.

In fact Mark’s inclusion of the pericope in this context should be considered as intentional in light of the underlying end-of-Israel theme noted above.

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