Mark 12:41-44 (NASB)
41And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury;
I wonder what this day in the life of Jesus was like. As busy as Jesus was, at this instance, He took the time to simply sit down and observe people. It seemed random that He just decided to do this. Was He taking a break from teaching? Did He see something intriguing that He wanted to observe? Was this a common thing that Jesus did? Did He do it out of a whim or was it intentionally done to teach the disciples an important lesson?
Perhaps it wasn’t fully random. After all He decided to sit opposite to the treasury. The immediate issue at hand, of course, was money. Notice that He was observing how the people were putting the money into the treasury. How many ways can a person put money into the treasury? Physically, you can first observe how people walk towards the treasury. Some would strut, some would straight to the treasury, some would bow a little as a language of humility or self consciousness. It was a public place, and people knew that others would be watching. Some loved the attention, some were uncomfortable. Some would mindlessly put down their money, some with a little attitude, some with carefulness so as to not make a lot of noise. From physical observations, perhaps then you could make inferences on the motive of the person.
and many rich people were putting in large sums.
The treasury was a place that collected free will offerings and money from the people. What was given was not tithe or sacrifices of penitence; the givers gave out of their own free will. Of notice, the rich people were giving a lot of money because, quite naturally, they had a lot of it.
42A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.
Seeing a poor person around the treasury was perhaps a rare occasion. A woman, alone, was about to be the center of attention. A rich widow would make the story very different, but this was a poor one. I wouldn’t imagine her making a lot of noise. Timidly, she would approach the treasury. Did she go up when others went up too so the crowd wouldn’t notice her? Or did people naturally avoid being seen and associated with her?
She put in two small copper coins, a cent. A penny. That was her free will offering. I think about how worthless pennies are today. These are the smallest denominations in US currency, the ones we see on the sidewalks and no one cared to pick them up.
43Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury;
Yet her penny did not escape the eyes of God. Not only Jesus noticed this widow, He bragged about her. He said this widow put in more than all others. Maybe He meant all others individually, maybe He all other contributors combined. How can a penny be worth more than a whole treasury?
44for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
All other people gave out of their abundance. This widow’s mite, however, was all that she owned, all that she had to live on. How in the world can someone only own a penny? How can something that is so worthless to many, worth so much to a person and to God? This widow’s life was in that mite, and she gave that to God. It was more than a free will offering; it was a free will sacrifice.
It is when sacrifices that cost something are called for that the heart is tested.
 A quote from S. N. Haskell’s article in The True Missionary, a short-lived journal published during 1874, found in Sacrifice & Commitment