Sunday, July 17, 2005
The Widow's Mite
- Mark 12.41-44: And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
- Luke 21.1-4: And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
[T]he idea of small sacrifices being made by poor people as being more pleasing than the extravagant contributions of the rich is a theme common to Greek literature from at least the sixth century B.C. (see R. Herzog, Der junge Platon [ed. E.A. Horneffer, 2 vols.; Giessen: Töpelmann, 1922] 1. 150-157; J. Wettstein, Novum Testamentum graecum [2 vols.; reprinted Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlangsanstalt, 1962] 1. 618-619; cf. Josephus, Ant. 6.7,4 § 148; Euripides, Danaë frg. 319).The modern secondary works cited by Fitzmyer are unavailable to me. I'll present Fitzmyer's two ancient parallels and add one more.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 6.148 (tr. William Whiston):
And when these do sacrifice, though it be a mean oblation, he better accepts of it as the honor of poverty, than such oblations as come from the richest men that offer them to him.
In Nauck's collection Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, the fragments of Euripides' Danaë are numbered 316 to 330. Nauck's fragment 319 has nothing to do with this theme, but his fragment 327 does. I cannot find a translation, so here is my own quick and dirty version:
Mortals are accustomed to consider the words of wealthy men wise, but to mock whenever a poor man from a lowly house speaks well. I perceive that poor men are often wiser than rich men and that those who sacrifice small offerings are more pious than those who sacrifice oxen.
Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.3.3 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
Though his sacrifices were humble, according to his means, he [Socrates] thought himself not a whit inferior to those who made frequent and magnificent sacrifices out of great possessions. The gods (he said) could not well delight more in great offerings than in small -- for in that case must the gifts of the wicked often have found more favour in their sight than the gifts of the upright -- and man would not find life worth having, if the gifts of the wicked were received with more favour by the gods than the gifts of the upright. No, the greater the piety of the giver, the greater (he thought) was the delight of the gods in the gift. He would quote with approval the line:
"According to thy power render sacrifice to the immortal gods." [Hesiod, Works and Days 336]