This little account, found only in Mark and Luke, is like a breath of fresh air in an environment which was hostile to Jesus. Look at Luke 21:1-4, a briefer version of the same incident. It happened on Tuesday of holy week. Fahling and Ylvisaker place John 12:20-50, which contains the account of the Greeks, after this incident.
Ylvisaker: The poor (this widow) and the strangers (the Greeks) shall be His portion. The contemplation of this truth shall strengthen Him in His suffering which is now at hand. Jesus has spent the day thus far in the court of the Gentiles. Now He proceeds to the women's court, one of the lesser courts within that of the Gentiles. Here were placed thirteen chests or boxes, the so-called temple treasure. These receptacles had apertures in the form of trumpets. In these chests gifts of charity were deposited for the temple and the temple worship.
Fahling: After the great denunciation just related (Matthew 23:1-39; Mark 12:38-40) it is only too clear that the rupture of Jesus with the leaders of Israel was final. But before Jesus took His last leave of the Temple, and while He sat down for a moment to rest His sad heart, an incident occurred which made it possible for Him to leave His Father's house with words of kindness and approval.
Lenski: What a man! Directly after an address like the one just uttered he calmly sits down to note what a poor, lone widow does. He is never one-sided, never carried away by his emotions, always absolutely master of himself.
Hendriksen: The same loving Savior, who has just now denounced the scribes for 'devouring widows' houses'(12:40), shows, by his own example, how widows should really be treated. One should help them, and, as here, praise them whenever such praise is in order.
RSV, JB, NEB and NKJV place Jesus "opposite the treasure." "Crowd" is the public in general. "Money" denotes copper, brass or bronze money. It is implied that the general public did not give gifts of gold. The Jews did not use paper money.
The second sentence of this verse is more limited than is the first. It speaks only of the wealthy. "Many wealthy people were depositing much money." Bengel remarks at this point that the state was prosperous. Evidently Jesus sat where He could watch everything for quite some time.
Again, like the previous verse, we have a complex sentence, beginning with an adverbial temporal clause and ending with an adjectival clause. The "copper coins" were the smallest coin they had. The two coins amounted to about one half cent.
Hendriksen: Due to constantly varying monetary values it is impossible to indicate with any degree of accuracy what such coins would be worth today. . . By human calculation what the widow gave was insignificant.
Evidently the disciples were not sitting with Jesus at the moment, for we are told that He called them to Himself. Furthermore, the text seems to indicate that the disciples did not actually see the woman make her contribution. And we are not told that Jesus told them how much she threw into the treasury. If He did not tell them, they must have gathered that it was a small amount. The words "I tell you the truth" are used only of Jesus. They indicate His divinity.
"More" does not denote amount but quality. This one widow is singled out as the highest giver.
Stoeckhardt: In His last days of public teaching in the temple there was much that offended the Lord, causing Him to rebuke the people and their leaders, but He also observed that which was good, even though it seemed insignificant.
In verse 42 it was mentioned that she gave two mites. Why two?
Bengel: One of which the widow might have retained.
The point is that she was utterly selfless. How did Jesus know that she was poor? Perhaps by her dress. How did He know that she was a widow? Because of His omniscience. The same can be applied in verse 44 where we are told that he contribution was her entire living. The wealthy threw in much. There is nothing wrong with that. The widow threw in two mites. There is nothing meritorious about that. The explanation follows in the last verse.
This verse is the explanation. Note the contrasts. "Out of their wealth" means "from that which they didn't need anyway." "From her poverty" means "from her destitution." "To live on" means "living, livelihood, the means by which life is sustained." We quote several translation to bring out the meaning:
Ylvisaker: The poor widow proves to the Lord that not all have been beguiled by the corrupt leaders who devoured the houses of widows, that not all were imbued with the same carnal mind -- there are yet a few who are willing in the fervor of their devotion to the holy place of God to sacrifice all.
Lenski: Poverty may be made a great curse as well as a great blessing. It becomes a curse when it fills the heart with anxious care and worry, with murmuring and complaint, or leads to unbelief and dishonesty. It becomes a blessing when it compels the poor man to cast himself upon God who has promised to care for his children.
By analogy we might say that wealth may be a curse as well as a blessing. If the wealthy man becomes a miser who hoards and gives only that which he won't miss anyway, his wealth becomes a curse. But if the wealthy man gives his all back to the Lord, then it is a blessing.
Stoeckhardt: The Lord was greatly pleased with this sacrifice of the widow because it showed that it was given out of the right motive in deep love and trust to God. These willing and cheerful givers are loved by God.
Lenski: To give her last cent as she did means that by this act she placed herself completely into the keeping of God, who could and would provide for her far better and more surely than any two 'mites,' or a million times any number of 'mites.'
The rich in this case gave from a lack of faith. She gave by faith. What did she eat that evening? The Lord took care of that.