New Widow’s Mite: Couple Gives Life Savings to U.S. Treasury

The story of the widow’s mite in the Gospels isn’t only about generosity but about exploitation, which seems to apply to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The story of the widow’s mite (a “mite” was a tiny bit of currency in first-century Palestine) is often interpreted as a commendation of sacrificial generosity, but there is another message the story is trying to send to us. It is a message quite relevant to a recent headline about a couple donating their life savings to the U.S. Treasury.

Consider how the story is placed in Mark’s Gospel. It is found in chapter 12, verses 41-44. Jesus and his disciples are watching people give public donations. The widow puts in a pittance but Jesus says she put in more than all the rich donating larger sums. Her offering is greater because she gave everything she had, even all she had to live on.

So is the lesson here that we are supposed to be like this widow?

I think the lesson is that we are to make sure that widows are supported by true religion (see James 1) rather than exploited by it.

Immediately before this story, Jesus had condemned the scribes, who “devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

And then, right after watching the widow donate to the Temple, Jesus tells the disciples that, rather than being built up, the Temple was going to be torn down in God’s judgment (chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel).

Thus, the story of a couple leaving all their hard-earned life savings to the U.S. Treasury makes me think of this warning in the Gospels.

In identical wills, immigrants Peter and Joan Petrasek, who had no known relatives, left all of their money and assets to “the government of the United States of America,” ABC News reported on Thursday. Last month, a cashier check totaling $847,215.57 was made out to the Department of the Treasury.

Joan died in 1998 at age 79 from breast cancer. Peter lived another 14 years, dying in 2012 at age 85. It took a lawyer a few years to fulfill the couple’s request of donating their estate to the government.

“[Peter Petrasek] wanted to make a statement about how much it meant to him to be an American citizen,” said Peter Winn, an assistant U.S. attorney who handled the couple’s donation. The government deposited the money into its general fund.

This couple decided to take money that could have gone to any number of private charities and good causes and, instead, donate it to the U.S. Treasury. How long did that money last?

[See also, “U.S. Treasury Madness: Go into Record Debt to Repay Debt.”]

Eight seconds. That’s how fast the government spends a mere $847,215.57.