41 The “treasury” appears to have been located in the court of women and appears to have consisted of thirteen trumpet-shaped receptacles for both the temple tax and money given voluntarily for various purposes.
42 The “two very small copper coins” were two lepta (so the Greek text). The lepton was the smallest coin in circulation in Palestine and was worth 1/64 of a denarius, a day’s wages for a common laborer. It was not in circulation in the western part of the Roman Empire, where Mark apparently wrote. Therefore he explained that two lepta had the same value as a kodrantēs, the Greek transliteration of the Latin quadrans, which was a coin familiar to his readers/hearers. (The statement “which is a quadrans” is obscured by the NIV’s “worth only a fraction of a penny.” A similar obfuscation appears in most translations because most modern readers have no knowledge of ancient coins or their values.)
43–44 Jesus indicated that the thing of most importance is not how much is given but the extent to which the gift is a sacrificial one. Or to put it another way, the most significant thing is not how much is given but how much is left for one’s personal use after the gift. A major element of Jesus’ teaching is that attitude is more important than action. The widow’s total giving demonstrates an attitude of absolute trust in God.
Quite different is the interpretation that claims the widow was guilty of imprudence and that Jesus could not have commended her. Rather he condemned a system that permitted widows to be destitute and perhaps even made them destitute by pressuring them to give all they had. The same kind of extravagance, however, is commended in 14:6. There was so much poverty in ancient Palestine that the authorities could do little about it. The commendation of the widow does not imply that every disciple should give away everything.
The expression “calling his disciples to him” indicates that the teaching was intended for them and for all subsequent disciples. They too were to be generous in the extreme but without any ostentatiousness. In various ways they were to give their all as the widow did. But there is an additional lesson in the account. The sacrificial gift of the widow points to the sacrificial gift of Jesus. She gave her entire livelihood; he gave his very life. As Paul put it, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). Therefore the account functions as a transition to the passion narrative in chaps. 14–15. With this beautiful story Mark ended his account of Jesus’ public ministry.