"Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.'"
Jesus carefully watched those who were giving on that occasion (cf. Deut. 16:16,17). He knew what they gave and what they were capable of giving. He still watches the treasury today to see how each of us gives (or fails to give), as we can and should (cf. II Cor. 9:7). The text states that "many who were rich put in much." Although "many" of the wealthy contributed freely, evidently not all of them did.
"Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans" - A "mite" was a small coin made of brass. It was the lowest denomination in use among the Jews at that time. The total value of the two coins in today's terms would be less than a penny. This woman was probably alone and poorly dressed. It is likely that some who saw her would feel sympathetic, but Jesus regards her with admiration. It is certainly possible that this was a widow who had been robbed by the hypocritical religious leaders (cf. Matt. 23:14).
Jesus, after witnessing the fine example of this widow, took the opportunity to teach His disciples a lesson about giving - "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury." Obviously, in an absolute sense, she did not give more than all those who had given previous to her. In fact, it is likely that in physical terms not one of them gave less than this widow did! However, in proportion to her means, she gave far more than any of them did.
"For they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood" (Mark 12:44). Man has a tendency to only consider things from a quantitative view, and from this perspective the large gifts of the rich would be highly regarded (for what they could be used to accomplish) and the small gift of this widow would be deemed insignificant (since it could be used to accomplish almost nothing). Jesus, however, seems to be more concerned with the qualitative aspect of giving. The dollar amount of one's giving is not what matters, but the amount given in proportion to one's potential to give. In this case, this woman could not be surpassed qualitatively for she gave all that she had! Certainly Jesus found pleasure in looking into the beautiful heart of this woman (and also those today who don't give merely "out of their abundance"). She showed her love for God through her giving as well as self-denial, faith, and sincerity (cf. II Cor. 8:12). She did not give to be praised of men, but she gave to God out of her poverty!
Some might wonder why this poor widow did not retain one of her mites, instead of giving both to God. The answer must be that she trusted God better than many do today. She had confidence that God would provide for her, and she felt no need to cling to her money in an effort to provide any kind of future security. This poor woman "felt" what she gave; the rich who gave out of their "abundance" did not. It is unknown what she may have denied herself to make this gift possible, but it is known for certain that when the rich give out of their "overflow" they don't deny themselves even one comfort. May our contributions to the Lord be done in a proper spirit, and may we give generously out of love that the kingdom of God may be advanced! May we give beyond our abundance by practicing self-denial and making giving a priority (cf. Matt. 6:33; II Cor. 8; 9:6,7).
Ironically, this woman voluntarily did what Jesus had commanded the rich, young ruler to do--she gave her all! Not only that, but she gave all even though she didn't have the strong body of a young man to make more money and help insure herself against future want. Today, those who give like this woman are not necessarily those who give a small amount to God, but those who give all to their Lord.