Two Copper Coins

Image by Thanasis Papazacharias from Pixabay 

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12:38-44

Last week’s lesson ended at verse 34, leaving 3 verses to be skipped. Let’s take a quick peek.

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

37David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?”

The large crowd listened to him with delightNIV

How can we ignore a passage where the crowd is cheering Jesus? The riddle is simple. King David called the Messiah, my Lord. Everyone knows that a father would never, as in, ever, call his son lord.

Why was the crowd so delighted? One of the constant features of being human is that we all seem to feel satisfaction when we see the high and mighty get their come-upness, especially if we don’t happen to like them. In this case it was the priests and Pharisees. Mark makes nothing else of this except to insert it as a hint of who Jesus really is.

It is also a proper lead-in to today’s reading where Jesus criticizes the rabbis and Pharisees.

38 As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets40 They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.” NIV

That is all Mark includes in this short teaching. How does this fit with Jesus’ overall message of love? Are we to love people who, devour widows’ houses?

Yes.

But we do not learn from them. They are not messengers from God. More importantly, we should never aspire to be like them. Jesus could teach circles around every rabbi who has ever lived, but he gave up all the comforts of this world except to love everyone. Jesus did not hesitate to challenge the leaders who were leading people away from God. But he did not do it by hating them. He never gave up loving Judas.

41 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. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. NIV

Let’s set the two copper coins in perspective. The standard daily wage throughout the Roman Empire for centuries was one denarius. It was 4.5 grams of silver roughly equal to the weight of two US dimes. Its value in Jesus’ day would have equaled perhaps $50-100 in purchasing power. Forty copper or bronze Roman coins equaled one denarius, but there were many smaller copper coins of various makes that people used for most daily market purchases. (About 300 CE, the once mighty denarius was copper with a paper-thin sliver cover. I know, we would never have a coin like that.)

The King James Version gives us the most recognized translation of verse 42. 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. Both terms were in common usage in 1611 England. A mite was the nickname for a penny that had been chopped into pieces so a person could buy a crust of bread for 1/8 of a cent. Much like the widows coppers.

Coins through the ages have not been spared the axe. Pieces-of-Eight? Spain minted silver coins with dividing lines like spokes of a wheel so we colonist in 1600s could chop them into eight smaller pieces. The British called the eight pieces, bits, and they spoke of 2 bits, 4 bits, 6 bits, a dollar, with dollar being the early name for paso. Our dollar sigh, $, is even based on the Mexican paso.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” NIV

If you are still asking how Jesus knew she gave her last ‘mite’, go back and reread Mark. Jesus knows what ever he needs to know because he has God whispering in his ear.

What does this passage have to say to you and me? Most Americans give out of our wealth because we are wealthy. Jesus does not criticize us for that, but we are not giving all we have. I have never missed a meal. I sometimes ate very little because I didn’t like it, but that doesn’t count. I have shoes, boots, and clothes for most occasions—I’ll rent if I’m ever invited to a White House banquet. We drive a nice used care (only 7 years old) and a 21-year-old pickup because we live on 5 acres, and I think I need to haul ‘stuff’. Our kids are almost all over 50. I can’t take it with me.

Yet…

We live in America. What happens if I can’t remember where I live or how to find the toilet? Do I move in with the kids or to a ‘home’? If you think about it, and I have, either option is going to cost money.

So, we have some savings for such an event. If I die tonight, others, including causes we support, will get my wealth. Jesus understands that we have to live where we are.

Chrysostom about 380 BCE wrote; Do not despair. One cannot buy heavenly things with money…. If money could purchase such things, then the woman who deposited the two small copper coins would have received nothing very large. But since it was not money but rather her intention that prevailed, that woman received everything because she demonstrated firm conviction….. She robbed herself of everything, or rather did not rob but gave to herself a free giftACCS

Augustine added about 400 BCE; But what, brethren, is more mighty than that not only Zacchaeus should acquire the kingdom of heaven by the half of his goods, but even the widow for two pennies, and that each should possess an equal share there? ACCS

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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