THE ORIGINAL TWO CENTS
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 7, 2019
1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, 2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
— Luke 21:1-4, ESV
With yet another idiom taken from the pages of the Bible, we put in our “two cents” when weighing in on the popular topics of the day. But that, and a dollar bill, will buy you a cup of coffee. In other words, our opinions, our “two cents,” really aren’t worth much.
This was not so with the original two cents. They were actually two small copper coins, known as lepta or mites in Jesus’ day, which had an actual value of about one-half of one cent. They were given by “a poor widow” in this story told by Luke (and Mark), a beloved story which adds to the lore of the last week of Christ’s life. And, the original two cents are worth more than you know.
Let’s look at the two coins in two ways.
Giving in Man’s Eyes
Remember almost everything Jesus did that week was calculated to raise the ire of the politico-religious establishment. This story is no exception. After besting them in at least four crucial debates on the Temple grounds, Jesus then moved inside and embarrassed the Pharisees and Sadducees over the offerings they gave to God.
Everything at Passover week, and the first Holy week, was public. Jesus’ triumphal entrance into the city was quite public. Sacrificial animals were publicly sold, and Jesus made news that day. His debates with the religious rulers were out in the open. Even the giving of offerings were done in a way that all could see, and commentators, like Jesus, could be heard, by everyone.
When Jesus said, “This poor widow has put in more than all of them,” it surely enraged the rich religious rulers, one of whom probably just foreclosed on the poor widow’s house. It also exposed the fallacy of giving and living in man’s eyes. Bigger is not always better.
If a person is listed among the richest people in the world, are they really? If a coach is declared the winningest coach in his sport, is he really? If a church is listed among the largest or fastest growing churches in the denomination, is it really? I suppose it depends on how you define true riches, true winners, and true churches.
God’s definitions are different from ours.
Let’s stick with giving for now, and let’s look at it through man’s eyes, particularly the rich men who “gave out of their abundance.” To them bigger was better and the most made you the best. Their flamboyance in giving offerings was already well known (ref. Matthew 6:1-2). They certainly made it easy for Jesus and everyone else to see that day exactly how much money they put into the public offering.
They gave “out of their abundance” of money, because they had used politics and religion to make a lot of money. They gave “out of their abundance” of pride, because pride was the main thing they stored in the reservoir of their hearts. They gave “out of their abundance” of self-centeredness and self-importance, for they truly believed the fate of Israel depended upon rich and influential people like themselves, not poor widows nor poor carpenters’ sons from Galilee.
In man’s eyes, their giving identified them as the most rich, important, influential, powerful people in their world. This widow was a nobody. Two mites were nothing. This Jesus of Nazareth was a nobody. His teaching amounted to nothing. How big they looked and how small others looked, in man’s eyes.
But, what about God’s eyes?
Giving in God’s Eyes
Giving is always in God’s eyes because God always sees what people give. With the omniscience often ascribed to Santa Claus, the true and living God is always awake and attentive to all of our waking and sleeping moments. He knows what we are giving. Perhaps more importantly, He knows how we are living. Jesus certainly knew all about this “poor widow.”
Have you ever noticed how almost all of the heroes of Holy Week were women? Men betrayed, denied, ran away, and cowered down. Women, mostly named Mary, stooped and anointed Jesus with perfume, stood out in the Passover offering, stood by Him at the cross, and were the first to stand outside the empty tomb. Though the poor widow’s name is not mentioned, and few if any actually knew it, Jesus saw her and knew her and loved her and commended her for her great faith. God sees all, and all of our giving and living will be ultimately commended or condemned by the Maker.
God sees our giving. Churches today try to keep public offerings as private as possible. Usually only the church treasurer and perhaps another counter or two know what the members give on any given Sunday. But God knows, He always knows, and He knows way more than you may know.
God knows more than the treasurer, the banker, the credit card company, and the IRS combined. God knows how much you give. God knows how much you have left, too. God knows how every penny is spent or saved. God even knows the motive by which you give, spend, or save, whether it be sustenance, sacrifice, or selfishness.
God saw what the widow gave and commended her for it. Her two cents wouldn’t make any difference in the temple budget that year, but she gave anyway for giving is the right thing to do. She did not stop at ten percent, or fifty percent, but gave a hundred percent, for at that time in her life she believed that’s what God called on her to do. She gave, moreover she obeyed, and her two cents were more valuable then, and now, than any of us could ever imagine.
God sees our living. The most important giving you can ever offer to God is obedient living. Obedience requires the grace of faith. Obedience is the proof of love. Obedience has no pride and no fear. Obedience is familiarity with the word of God and sensitivity to the Spirit of God. And God knows, precisely, whether we are living obedient or disobedient lives.
So how much sacrificial giving, and how much obedient living, does God want from His children? God wants more. In His commendation He said, “This poor widow has put in more.”
Can you give more to church and charity this year than you did the year before? Can you spend more time in the public and private worship of God this year than you did the year before? Can you intentionally share the gospel and offer acts of kindness with more people this year than the year before? Can you, well, you get the idea.
God put this poor widow’s giving and living on the big screen for all of us to see. Like many episodes recorded in Scripture, it is exceptional rather than normative. It is a rare thing for God to raise the dead or miraculously heal a terminal disease. It is also rare for God to call upon a willing soul to put their last penny into the plate. But I believe God would have all of us to examine our own giving and our own living and make a faithful pledge to do “more.”
The big idea of total commitment to Christ is the idea that springs from these two copper coins, the original two cents. Such love, obedience, and sacrifice is infinitely valuable in God’s eyes. May we all learn, love, and follow the call to give our all to the Lord.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org