She came to the temple to make her offering. She was a widow lady and very poor. She lived pretty much from day to day, trusting in the Lord and His provision. Perhaps she relied on family, but you know how family can be sometimes. Maybe there were friends and neighbors who were there to make sure that she had enough flour and oil for bread.
You can be certain that she knew the story of the prophet Elijah and the widow at Zarephath quite well. It was one she could relate to, an instant connection and application. The only difference was that the widow in the Old Testament was from Zaraphath, a coastal town between Tyre and Sidon She wasn’t an Israelite but from a pagan people that was the enemy of God’s people. All the more scandalous then, that Elijah should be sent to her by God. But then we know that God’s mercy extends beyond the boundaries of His Israel to the ends of the earth, and it included this poor widow and her son who were preparing their last meal with the bit of flour and oil she had.
What an imposition it must have seemed at the time for Elijah to ask her for a piece of bread when she was scraping the bottom of her flour jar. And what an act of faith it was to trust the Word of God through the prophet with her last morsel of food! She believed the Word that her flour and oil would not run out, that day after day she would reach into those jars and there would be something there by the sheer grace of God until the Lord sent rain on the land again. She acted on what she believed. She did as Elijah told her. And the flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, because the Lord had said so.
You have to believe that the widow who came to the temple that day knew that story. And while she had no such promise from God as the widow at Zaraphath, she knew that the widow was close to the Lord’s heart, that “He sustains the fatherless and the widow.” And this widow at Zaraphath served as a reminder to her that God is faithful and true to His Word, that He would not abandon her in her time of need, that she could trust in the Lord’s fatherly care to supply what she needed. Somehow.
She would not come to the temple empty-handed, although certainly people would have understood. What could she possibly give anyway? The temple budget was enormous, the renovation work was ongoing. It all takes money, as they say, and I would imagine that the temple accountants really didn’t pay much regard to this poor widow. Earlier, Jesus had criticized the scribes for their flowing robes and honorific titles and best seats in the synagogue and how they latched on to widows and devoured their houses. This widow had little to eat much less devour.
But still she came to the temple with her two little copper coins, worth about a penny. She stood in line at the entrance to the temple’s “court of women” where the money boxes were. There were thirteen metal boxes shaped like long horns standing on their ends with the bell sticking high up in the air. As the coins clanged their way into the coffers, they made a sound that could be heard throughout the courtyard. So you can imagine the attention that was drawn when the rich came forward and dumped their quantities of coin into treasury box. Clang, clang, clang, clang. You can only imagine the noise. And everyone stopped and looked to see who it was that made such a glorious contribution to the bottom line.
And then comes our dear widow lady with her two copper coins. Plink, plink. Barely a sound as they went down to join the coins of the rich. Barely a blink on the bottom line of the temple budget. Plink, plink. It hardly registered. They were the smallest coins in circulation. They would have purchased one eighth of a daily ration of bread. Barely enough for a lunch for one. You and I would likely have missed it, as we often do when we are trying to raise money. Sure the gesture is nice, but it really doesn’t pay the bills, does it?
Sitting across the way, opposite the treasury box, is Jesus, watching as people put their money into the treasury, listening to the clang, clang, clanging of the coins. And then He hears the plink, plink of the widows two copper coins, and HIs ears perk up. He hears something different in that plink, plink that he didn’t hear in all the other coins that clanged into the coffer. He hears faith. Trust in God. He calls HIs disciples to share the moment. “Did you hear that?” You know they didn’t. “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.”
What kind of accounting is this? How are we going to pay the bills, Jesus, when you praise a couple of copper coins over all the gold and silver that was contributed? Aren’t we supposed to honor the big givers? But the Lord is seeking something else. The gold and silver belong to Him anyway, and He can recall them any time He wishes in your death. The plink, plink of faith is music to the Lord’s ears, more melodious than all the excess coins of the rich clanging away and echoing in the temple courts. They gave our of their abundance; it takes no faith at all to give out of surplus. But to give out of poverty…that tiny little plink, plink of two copper coins was her entire livelihood; everything she had to live on.
Can you imagine the offering if the rich gave in the same proportion? Everything they had down to their last two copper coins? The treasury boxes could not have contained it. They would have been busting full of money. The clanging would have been deafening. They’d be calling in the Brinks trucks on an hourly basis to cart it all away, if those who had much gave in the same way as this faithful widow lady who gave her last two pennies.
Her giving flowed out of a living trust that seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and trusts that all the things that are need in this life will be added as well. It is the childlike trust in a heavenly Father who knows what we need even before we ask Him, and who gives good gifts to His children. It is a faith that holds the coins of this world with a loose, dead hand. Like the widow at Zaraphath, this faithful woman trusted that God would take care of her, and that those two coins that were the last of her saving, that could hardly buy the equivalent of a dinner roll, served far better as an expression of her trust in God than as a guarantee for her next meal.
It’s hard when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. This is why the widowed, the orphaned, the poor have a special place in Scripture. They live without a safety net. They live trusting that God will provide. Their petition “Give us this day our daily bread” takes on a slightly different important than for those of us who know precisely how our daily bread will come. I get the impression that the flour and oil jars for that widow at Zaraphath were always near empty for the entire time Elijah stayed with her. But every time she went to get flour or oil there was some. Just enough. Or when Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fish, it wasn’t that he made many loaves out of a few, but He extended the few loaves to feed the many.
When that widow came home from the temple with two pennies less, she did not come home to a cupboard full of food or a bank account full of money. But the Lord had heard the humble plink plink of her faith, and you know the Lord did not let her down. The apostle Paul wrote these lines from a prison somewhere, to a congregation that had just sent him a gift. God always works through means, instruments. Sometimes you are the instrument, sometimes you are the recipient. In this case Paul was the recipient of a gift from the Philippines. And he writes this back:
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me….I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
We trust the Lord with the big things – forgiveness, life, salvation. We trust that His death covers the multitude of our sins, that in Baptism we are clothed with Jesus, buried with HIm, raised with Him, glorified with Him. We trust that for His sake we stand before God justified, sinners though we are. We trust though we die, yet on account of Christ we will live, and in HIm we live even now.
If God is faithful in the big things, is He not also faithful in the little things. If we trust Him with our eternal life, will we trust Him with our two copper coins? And there, we must at times pray, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” He cares for you and for your life. Sometimes the flour and oil may run mighty low, and the bank account may have no more than a couple of copper coins in it, but you are never outside the Lord’s notice, never outside His care. He has staked a claim on you, and He is faithful and true to His Word. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. Let not your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
Don’t think that your two pennies offered in faith are not noticed. The world may not notice, but the Lord does. And that plink, plink of faith’s little copper coins is a sweet melody to His ears.
In the name of Jesus,