Mark 12:38-44 “As he taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.’ Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.'”

Christians often remark that the verses in the Bible most quoted to them are the words of Jesus, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1). People who are totally ignorant of the rest of the New Testament will quote those words to an evangelical believer to tell him or her to stop suggesting that other people might be confused, or that they might be sinners who needed a Saviour. “Do not judge!” men say to us. There can be a church meeting in which some response to the reprehensible conduct of a man on the church role is being delicately dealt with. He hasn’t been inside the church for years, and hours have been spent trying to restore him, but now he has compounded things by some vile crime, and he seems utterly defiant and unrepentant. It is suggested by the godly pastor that the procedures of Jesus in Matthew 18 be instigated in his case to try to restore this brother, but then a church member rises to his feet protesting; “Judge not or you’ll be judged” he says. Do such misguided people think that the Lord Jesus gave us those commandments in Matthew 18 to be glanced at and then ignored? This is the divinely appointed way of bringing such a man back to God in repentance. The world is deluding itself if it dreams that Jesus wouldn’t pass judgment on anyone. We are all hurtling towards the day of judgment when everyone who is made in God’s image must appear before the Son of God. What dignity is heaped on men and women that their lives should be considered worthy of evaluation by God himself. The Lord Christ has made the event plain enough. The apostles tell us that it is appointed unto men once to die and after death the judgment. Notice a number of things in our text.


There are those who say that if parents are raising children then they should simply surround them with beautiful things and then they needn’t to warn them about dangerous influences. I think they are being utterly naive; they are not facing up to the enormous power of human sin. Similarly there are men who tell us, “Simply preach Christ, and then you’ll never have to bother warning a congregation about false teachers. Magnify God before the people and you won’t have to tell them of wolves in sheep’s clothing.” There are those who say, “Simply get Holy Spirit baptism and you’ll cruise through any opposition.” But I return to this passage (and others like it, some much longer such as Matthew chapter 23) and here I am confronted with the incarnation of the love of God and he is warning his hearers to watch out for certain men. He certainly centred his ministry on the kingdom of God, and he urged his followers to pray constantly, and yet he solemnly and frequently told them to keep their eyes open and consider the wretched behaviour of religious men. We are told that every true Christian is kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, but how does God keep us? Not exclusively by looking to Jesus Christ, and by magnifying God and by knowing the power of the indwelling Spirit. Maybe principally in those ways, but also in this, by noticing the conduct of evil men and fleeing from it like the plague. Jesus brought the bad example of such religious men to the minds of his servants. He did this to help them in their battle with sin and to encourage them in Christ-likeness.

So here in this passage of the Word of God we meet a Christ who himself passed judgment on men and women. We are told of a Christ who warned his disciples exactly what was going to happen to certain wicked people, that they “will be punished most severely” (v.40). Three chilling words, “punished most severely.” There are of course millions of people who believe themselves to be more loving than Jesus of Nazareth. They aren’t the kind of people who punish anyone except perhaps those whom the present troubled Home Secretary recently referred to as ‘extreme right wing evangelical Christians.’


The Lord Jesus was accompanied in the Temple by his own disciples. He was not speaking exclusively to worldly and ungodly men, but to those who had been with him for three years. He was addressing men who loved him, those apostles who were the founders of the Christian church, the first preachers of salvation, and yet to them he said, “Watch out!” There is something very remarkable in this fact. We might have thought that these were the men least needing such a warning. Hadn’t they given up everything for the sake of Christ? They had. Hadn’t they endured hardship for Jesus? They had. Hadn’t they been taught by him, transformed by him, followed and loved him, while the world was unbelieving? Yes, but these disciples were the very men he warned, “Watch out!” We might have thought that his disciples had least to fear from the teachers of the law. The Twelve were poor and unlearned men, most of them coming from the underclass in Galilean life; they had no leanings toward being scribes and lawyers; they were more likely to be prejudiced against such men than drawn towards them. As they listened to Jesus were any of the Twelve thinking, “It’s OK Teacher; we don’t need this. Get on with something positive.” Yet to such a group Christ was saying, “Watch out!”

This is a solemn warning to everyone who professes to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and to have followed him for years. The words of our Saviour are saying to us that the most eminent servants of Christ are not beyond the need of warnings, and they are the ones who ought to be always on their guard. The holiest believer ought to walk humbly with his God, and to watch, and pray, in case he fall into temptation. None is so holy that he can spurn a message of warning. None is so mature that he may not fall – not finally, and not hopelessly, but to his own grief, and the sadness of the church and the triumph of the world. None is so strong that he might not be overcome. Christ was preaching to those given to him by the Father, chosen before the foundation of the world, justified by the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, indwelt by the Holy Ghost, kept by the power of God. Yes, but do you remember this, that believers are men only? Peter may still break fellowship with Gentile Christians and refuse to eat with them. Demas may still forsake the companionship of the apostle Paul through love of the world. Our hearts are only partly sanctified; our understanding is only in part; our sight is but dim. The enemy of our souls is very busy; he never slumbers nor sleeps. Let us remember the falls of others and be humble lest we too fall.

Distrust your own heart. Cry mightily to God that he will keep you from falling. Take heed that all your knowledge and experience does not puff you up. You love the theme of revival, and the Spirit baptizing the church. Beware of pride. You love the whole counsel of God and the great ‘solas’ of the Reformation. Beware of pride. Many have begun well, and run well for a season, and afterwards they have turned aside. Make sure you are spiritual men. Pray that God will keep you from error. Remember that the twelve apostles were the chief amongst this group to whom Christ turned and said, “Watch out.”


“Watch out for the teachers of the law,” warns Christ. He didn’t warn them about thieves and prostitutes and drunkards and murderers and racists and grasping capitalists. They’d have nodded gravely at such warnings. He didn’t warn them about Gentile dogs and Roman soldiers. They’d have appreciated being reminded how wicked such people were. No doubt friendship with such men brought its own snares, but Jesus never singled out such people. He raised no warning voice against them. He confined his warning to one group alone, the religious men of the nation; “Watch out for the teachers of the law.” Who were these men? They were the scribes, the lawyers and teachers of religion. They were formalistic, worshippers of the fathers in Israel, self-righteous men. They attached such weight to the traditions of the rabbis that they practically regarded them as having more importance than the inspired writings of the Old Testament. They followed with an exacting strictness hundreds of rules and regulations which they considered to be the essence of true religion.

Why does Christ warn his disciples about them? Because all the nation considered them to be the models of religion, and Christ could see the subtle influence they might have over the Twelve apostles once fame and power became theirs in the church. As one of the Australian Anglicans from the Sydney diocese says, “When you make a man a bishop you put a mitre on his head and remove his backbone.” Jeremy Paxman says that the Church of England is an organisation which thinks anything can be settled over a cup of tea, but the Lord Christ takes the conduct and influence of religious people very seriously. The teachers of the law were impressive figures with their flowing robes and prominent seats in the synagogues and in the feasts. They could pray publicly for ages. How religious they seemed, but it was concerning these men that Jesus warned his disciples.

They were not infidels; they didn’t deny the inspiration of the Scriptures; they kept the law of Moses. Jesus speaks to one teacher of the law earlier in his chapter and tells him that he is not far from the kingdom of God. What is more within forty years Jerusalem with its magnificent temple would be destroyed, and the Jews scattered around the Mediterranean basin. Why did he bother to warn his disciples about them? He did so for the perpetual benefit of the church. In other words he said these words for you, and for me. He knew there would be a congregation of sinners in Aberystwyth in hundreds of years’ time who would need to watch out. Jesus knew the diseases to which human nature is always liable. He knew that there would always be teachers of the law in spirit among professing Christians. He knew that their succession would never fail; their generations would never become extinct, and that though the name ‘teacher of the law’ would be no more their principles would always exist, and of course our Lord was right. It matters little to me whether that spirit is found in the heart of the Roman church or in the heart of the Anglican church, what of my heart? Don’t I have a teacher of the law firmly ensconced here? We look at the warning of the Lord and we see that there are three areas of our lives which we need to watch:

i] Watch out for ambition.

There is godly ambition isn’t there? Paul’s ambitions were to present his body a living sacrifice to God. His ambition was to live for Christ. Henry Martyn, the missionary to Iran, had a true spirit of ambition when he said as a young man in 1805, “I have hitherto lived to little purpose, more like a clod than a servant of God; now let me burn out for God.” One of the most famous lady workers in India a hundred years later, Amy Carmichael, took up that sentiment and wrote these words in her most famous poem,

“Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire.
Let me not sink to be a clod,
Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God!”

Let us all be men and women of ambition, but let God determine what our ambitions should be. These teachers of the law looked no further than the honour which God alone gives. They loved to saunter around in their fashionable flowing robes – you can do nothing vigorous dressed in clothes that trail along the ground. Think of the ostentation of Lady Diana’s wedding train and the grief with which that marriage ended – and the marriage of the dress designers. These teachers of the law loved it when everyone sitting in a market or in a street got up when they came walking along. They loved the respectful greetings of men in public places. They loved these trappings of success. They didn’t teach the Scriptures; they didn’t exhort men to trust God with all their hearts and serve him. They used their selfish ambitions to promote themselves. How destructive it all is. William Cowper in his poem “The Task” portrays a man clambering up to the very peak of his ambition to grasp the seals of office – hotly pursued by equally ambitious men. Cowper writes:

“On the summit see,

The seals of office glitter in his eyes;
He climbs, he pants, he grasps them!
At his heels, close at his heels, a demagogue ascends,
And with a dexterous jerk soon twists him down,
And wins them, but to lose them in his turn.”

The rat race is quickly over. What has your ambition brought you? A handful of stones. How vain is worldly ambition. We all have its seeds in our hearts; the itch for the name, the big house, the degree, the promotion, the big job, the big salary, the ache for all the symbols of success. How self-centred it all is. Beware of sinful ambition Jesus is saying to Peter and James and Jones and the rest.

ii] Watch out for pride.

Here were men who loved to have the top places in the congregation and at the big banquets. They enjoyed rubbing shoulders with the top people. How pathetic it all is. Dr. Lloyd-Jones has a sermon on the opening verses of Ephesians 2 on men fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and of the mind, and he says in a pensive moment, almost in passing, “as I was preparing this sermon it filled me with a loathing and hatred of myself. I look back and I think of the hours I have wasted in mere talk and argumentation, and it was with one end only, simply to gain my point and to show how clever I was.” Shakespeare puts it like this,

“But man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d ,
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As makes the angels weep.”

I have heard the Home Secretary’s explanation for his conduct over the past few years and I have thought, “It makes the angels weep.” Christ has been speaking to them minutes earlier about loving their neighbours as themselves, but these religious men were putting love for self at the top of their list. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. I was on the island of Lewis in the Hebrides a few weeks ago and I was reading number of the testimonies of men and women converted in the revivals there after the Second World War. I was struck with one thing that was said by the Rev. Kenneth MacDonald (‘Kenny Ban’ or ‘Fair Kenny’). He was speaking of the change that conversion brought into his life and he said that God gave him the joy of salvation, but, he added, “God gave me tears, and I never lost the tears.” These teachers of the law never had tears did they?

Pride can have such an effect on a man. There was a time before Fair Kenny went into the ministry and he came straight from work in his working clothes to the Prayer Meeting. He was called upon to lead the congregation in prayer, but it was such a struggle. He had no liberty at all. Later on the Spirit came upon the meeting and Kenny again prayed but with such authority. As they were going home his father Norman said to him, “What happened to you in the first prayer?” “Ah, it was my trousers,” he said. He was so conscious that he had his working trousers on that he was distracted from praying. It’s pride isn’t it? The teachers of the law needed to be dressed up in their flowing robes before they could deliver their lengthy prayers.

In 1950 Donald MacPhail was a slender 16 year-old schoolboy in Barvas when he was converted. A special prayer meeting was held in the police station in Barvas because the local policeman was an earnest Christian. In that meeting the boyish Donald was asked to lead in prayer. He got up and put his hands together like a child does, and in the silence he said, “Father!” The whole meeting was broken. One word from this shy country youth and the Spirit of adoption came upon them. Do you see that prayers are not to be measured by the clock but judged by the closeness to God of those who lead in prayer? The stone-breaker at the roadside said, “I break them on my knees.” Donald MacPhail went on to Bible college and he spent the rest of his life as a missionary in the Yemen.

iii] Watch out for greed.

There was a widow in our congregation, and I was disappointed to hear of one of the charities to which she left her money. If she’d asked me I’d have advised her to make the bequest to a worthier cause, but I’m careful never to raise such subjects with the elderly unless they raise them with me. The teachers of the law had no such reticence; “They devoured widows’ houses” (v.40), said Jesus. They preyed on the lonely and the vulnerable; the wealthy widow was a target, but the poor widow too. These men masqueraded as the servants of God but in fact they were servants of greed.

There is no way that one single experience is going to deliver you from greed. There is no way that one time of prayer at the beginning of the day is going to save you from greed at 7 p.m. We are not like cordless drills that go all day on a single charge. We must not expect to go on being sustained by a closeness to God ten hours earlier. All day, every day, I need to keep directing my thoughts to God, keep standing close to the cross, keep thanking him for the innumerable blessings I have this day received, and keep casting all my cares on him who loves me so freely and lovingly. Only in such ways can I gain some victory over greed, and pride and vain ambition.

This is not some pleasant option facing me, in order for me to become a more credible preacher or a more decent human being. It is more than that. This is heaven and hell. Christ warns his disciples about the behaviour of the teachers of the law, “watch out!” and then he says to them, “Such men will be punished most severely” (v. 40). He’s not talking about their own consciences condemning them, or the shame of society calling them a bunch of rogues. Christ is referring to Almighty God the Creator considering the behaviour of his creatures, seeing the widow out on the street and a religious man, who has spoken in the name of God, living in her fine house. “He will be punished most severely,” says Christ. Would you be delivered from God punishing you? Then hear what Christ is saying and do it!


The Lord moves on in the temple to a spot in the Court of the Women where people could sit down and watch one of the popular spectacles. In that court was situated the ‘treasury’ which consisted of a line of thirteen chests shaped like trumpets into which men and women deposited their offerings. In the Jewish document called the Mishna the different designations of these chests are listed, apparently one was for purchasing turtle doves, one was for purchasing pigeons, another was for wood for burning on the altar, and so on, but there were six that were labeled “free-will offerings.”

The Lord Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover when the population of the city would be swollen by many pilgrims who had arrived for the feast. Normally 50,000 people lived in Jerusalem but during these days there would be an additional 200,000 pilgrims. Some of them were both devout and generous. There would be men like the Ethiopian Eunuch who had a responsible and high paying job as his country’s Court Treasurer under Queen Candace. How far he had travelled. This was his once in a lifetime opportnity to give to Jehovah the Lord he worshipped. The crowds of people sat overlooking these trumpet-shaped receptacles and they took special interest in the approach of a wealthy man with his servants. There was no paper currency in those days; everything was in coin. So a generous gift to the temple, a bag of money poured out, would rattle into the containers much to the delight of the spectators. Mark tells us Jesus watched many rich men who were actually throwing in large amounts. The crowd might have ooh’d and aah’d as what to them were the vast sums of money being poured into the treasury. Maybe a lifetime’s wages for some of them would have been given in one heavy bag of money tossed into one of the trumpet mouths – how the coins rattled and rattled their way into the chest. How they cheered at the sight! But Christ said nothing at all at the sight and sound of the rich people’s gifts. He watched everything. He knew their motives; he knew what was in man. He is watching us today and every day; when we are most conscious that God doesn’t exist he, whose eye is on the sparrow, is watching us too.

Then a little widow stood in line, her clothes indicating her poverty. Mark calls her a “poor widow” as if widowhood were not a heavy enough burden to bear. There would be no pension for her. She’d have had to work from dawn to dusk to earn some money for her own daily bread and maybe also for her dependents – her aged parents and her children. She could think of a host of sensible reasons for not giving money to the Lord. Surely he knew she had to live. People depended on her. She needed food to get strength to work another day. Jesus says in the last words of the chapter that this money was all she had to live on. There were no public advantages to her for giving a couple of coins to the temple. She wouldn’t be appearing on “Live Aid”; her name wouldn’t be on any celebrity benefit’s list; no bronze plaque was going to commemorate her gift; she wouldn’t be given one of the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for her work to charity; she wouldn’t be having her picture taken sitting with an AIDS victim. So why give away what she needed herself so desperately, especially when there were rich people pouring thousands of coins every hour into the temple treasury? And what about this sick temple? Wasn’t it desperately corrupt? Weren’t the money changers rotten to the core? How much longer was it going to survive? What powerful arguments to focus on her conscience so that she ended up giving nothing to the Lord and taking everything home with her. God would vindicate her decision wouldn’t he? How easily the arguments raced through her mind. They seem to us unanswerable. And everywhere you meet religious folk who have found a dozen reasons for giving as little as they can to their local church. Of course if it were their idea of a church with their idea of a minister and officers and a hymnbook and services then they would be giving sacrificially – so they tell themselves.

This poor widow wasn’t aware that as she approached the treasury she’d caught the eye of the most important person in the universe, that he was watching her keenly, the only one that matters, God the Son. Jesus saw that she was holding two mites – one of those coins would have been her salary for her day’s work. The coins were called ‘leptas’; this was the smallest coin in circulation, and she proceeded to put both coins in the offering. They were too small to make any sound as they fell into the box. She could have put one in and bought food with the other, but she gave both. She wasn’t putting in two copper coins; she was putting in everything! All that she had to live on she gave to God. She left her future with him. She showed radical trust in God; he would supply all her need. Does anyone think she starved by doing what she did? there is surely a certain recklessness about giving ourselves to the Lord. I was talking to a Christian worker on Friday and we were discussing our futures, and he was saying how extraordinary it is that we know nothing at all about what lies ahead, and how in a moment our entire plans can be changed. This widow gave everything to God because she loved him from her heart; she didn’t give to get anything in return. She didn’t think that if she gave two leptas to God he would give two hundred leptas to her. Good psychology; wretched theology. She gave to get nothing in return, simply out of her devotion to him. “All I have is yours. Here’s my heart, my life.” Jesus said that she had put more into the treasury than all the others. See the long procession of men with their bags of money waiting in line for their turn to tip their thousands of coins into the trumpets? She put in more than all of them combined.

There was once an aristocrat in Fife who went to church each Sunday morning and put on the offering plate at the d oor a penny. One Sunday he made a terrible mistake and put on the plate a sovereign, and realised what he had done when he sat down in his pew. He got up and went back to the vestibule to try to exchange the sovereign for a penny. “Stop, laird,” said the elder on duty. “You may put in what you like but you can take nothing out.” And though he protested the elder was unyielding. “Well,” he finally said to the elder, “I suppose I’ll get credit for it in heaven.” “No,” said the elder, “you’ll only get credit for a penny.”

Here is the extraordinary contrast in the verses of our text between some men and a poor widow. They were famous for their religion, while she wasn’t. They had flowing robes while she had threadbare castoffs. They sat in the most important seats in the synagogues and in places of honour at banquets while she stood with the poor folks at the back. They could throw into the treasury vast sums of money because they’d stolen the contents of widows’ houses, while she put in two mites. They were going to be severely punished while she was going to be eternally blessed. On the day of judgment would you rather be a famous religious person or this woman? How do you measure real sacrifice? By what you give? No, by what you keep.

What was the fundamental difference between these men and this woman? The fundamental difference between them was not one of gender or income or fame; it was the difference between their hearts. What’s going on in our hearts makes all the difference. When we write our cheques to the Income Tax authorities they couldn’t care less whether we did it with due appreciation for the benefits we get from our taxes or through clenched teeth. As long as the cheque doesn’t bounce and it’s for the correct amount they are content. It is not so with giving to God. He loves a cheerful giver and he hates a reluctant giver. I can give all that I possess and surrender my body to be burned, but if I don’t have love I gain nothing. Let me give a mere pound to God with this widow’s heart and it’s great gain. Here is a man who has won the lottery and he calls me and he says, “I’ve much admired the work you’ve done for so many years in Alfred Place. I want to give your church 50,000 pounds.” We would say, “Thank you very much,” and ask no questions for conscience sake. It is legally his money and he has cheerfully given it to us and we take it. But what of a man who with bitterness and weariness gives out of a sense of obligation hoping that God will be merciful to him for doing that? Better for him to keep it. Please keep it. Please go to God and deal with your bitterness in God’s sight and when your soul has been washed then come and give to the Lord in thankfulness. We don’t need more money – no questions asked! Alfred Place needs no pollution. We need loving sacrifices. We need gifts given with the positive spiritual quality of this widow. It is a privilege to give to God. What an honour that he might use our gifts as he pleases, and to help us to give in a way that pleases him.

God can do great things with little things given to him. A cup of cold water given to one of his disciples is a gift that actually refreshes God the Son. It will not lose its reward. This poor widow so privately bring her insignificant offering to God couldn’t dream that almost two thousand years later what she did would move a congregation thousands of miles away from the temple, and that she would become one of the most famous people in the world. When millions of millionaires would be rotting in the ground she’d be living on in the memories of God’s people and enjoying the presence of her Saviour. At his right hand are pleasures for evermore. The Day of Judgment will reveal it all. It will square all the accounts. She will be exalted in that day.

There was once a missionary who was the son of a widow who went to work for Christ in west Africa. He was not there long before he contracted an illness and died. His brother was left at home and he came to his mother and said to her, “Mother I want to go and take my place where my brother once worked. I will preach to my brother’s people. I will tell them of my mother’s and brother’s God.” And she bade him farewell and off he went to west Africa, and before long he too became ill and died, and his grave lies next to his brother’s. When the news reached home that she had lost her second son many from her church came to see her and to sympathise, and often she wept with them and they tried to comfort her. “You understand my tears,” she said. “I am weeping not that I have two sons dead in west Africa but because I don’t have a third son I can send there.”

Do you see what this passage is saying about you? You don’t need religion you need a new heart. This passage is saying that God doesn’t need our money; God wants you to serve and love him supremely. If money speaks what does it say about you? What witness does it make about where your hearts are? What does your giving tell God about you? As Sinclair Ferguson says, “God doesn’t need your money. He requires no benefactors to help him establish his kingdom. Noting you can do or give will add to his riches, he owns the entire universe, and he can employ everything in it for his own holy purposes. Furthermore, he owns your money too. He is able to give it to you and withdraw it from you at a moment’s notice. You are simply his steward. Anything you give to him he has first given to you, like a father giving pocket money to his children to help them buy his birthday present!

“God chooses to use whatever gifts he wants to further his kingdom. he can use a small gift for a great purpose and a great gift for a small purpose! With a great gift, a massive organisation may be set up which is in constant financial difficulties and eventually goes bankrupt; with a small gift, a Gospel, or a New Testament may be purchased which leads to the conversion of someone who wins many others to Christ, or is the instrument of a great revival – or, for that matter, points a millionaire to Christ! Jesus is underlining this in what he says. If we grasp it, we would never be proud of the amount we give.” (Sinclair Ferguson, “Let’s Study Mark,” Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1999, p.209).

No gift is too small to give to God. No money, no time, no talent is too insignificant for you to bring to God today. Give it to God and it becomes a pearl of great price. This woman, said Jesus, laid down her whole life, and that is what Jesus did for us. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

There was once a woman who loved her great King as did all the people of his kingdom. They decided they would present him with a great gift to show their deep affection. All this woman had to give were two mites. She felt so ashamed as she lined up with all his other subjects and put in his hand their. When it was her turn she could not look into his face. She looked down to the ground and pressed the two mites into his hand and moved on. Then he called after her, “Was it you who gave me this?” he asked, and there in his hand were two pieces of gold covered in costly diamonds and flawless pearls. She stared at them. “No,” she said, “I didn’t give you those.” “Look at them,” he said. “Take them in your hands.” She picked them off his hand and when she did all she was holding were two mites, but when she put them back in his hand they became pieces of gold covered in jewels. “Thank you,” he said, “for the beautiful gift. I will treasure this for ever,” and he took the pieces of gold and they hang on a chain around his neck and they lie next to his heart, and he always thinks of her when he sees them, and whenever any poor man or woman, boy or girl is afraid to bring a little gift to him because it seems so small, he points to what he wears around his neck and says, “These two glorious jewels were once two mites and they pleased me as much as any gift I’ve ever received for to me a person is accepted according to what he has, and not according to what he doesn’t have.

12th December 2004 GEOFF THOMAS