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A Few Copper Coins

The scene: Jerusalem, the most important city in the world for the Jews. The time: almost two thousand years ago.

Jesus of Nazareth, the famous teacher and faith healer, had been traveling through the countryside teaching and healing as he went. At last, he and his followers arrived in Jerusalem. And when they got to Jerusalem, of course they spent quite a bit of time at the Temple, because it the most holy place for the Jews.

The Temple was big. You climbed up Temple Mount, a steep little hill. The Temple was on top of the hill, surrounded by very high walls, and you walked in through one of the gates. There was a big open space surrounded with covered porches (or porticoes), and in the middle of the open space was a building called the Holy of Holies, a place so holy that only the Temple priests were allowed to enter.

Jesus and his followers saw all kinds of people coming and going in the Temple. For example, there was a place where you could leave your donations to the Temple (instead of passing a basket around for an offering the way we do in our church, people dropped their money in a small room called the "Treasury"). There were crowds of people dropping money into the Treasury, to support the work of the Temple.

Jesus and his followers watched a crowd of rich people, one after another, put large sums of gold and silver coins into the treasury. Then a woman walked up who was obviously very poor. Her clothes were worn and well-patched, and even a little ragged at the edges. She dropped two small copper coins called "quadrans" into the Treasury -- that was about like dropping two pennies into our collection basket.

Jesus pointed her out to his followers. "See that woman?" he said.

One of his followers replied, "Oh, you mean that poor woman who only dropped two pennies into the Treasury?"

"Let me tell you something," said Jesus. "That woman has put more into the Treasury than all those rich people did."

"Hah," said another one of his followers. "That woman dropped two lousy pennies into the Treasury. Those rich guys put in thousands of dollars worth of gold and silver. They put in more than she did."

Jesus sighed. Sometimes it was hard to explain things to his followers.

"Look," said Jesus, "those other people have tons of money. Dropping some gold and silver into the Treasury means nothing to them. They could put twice that much in, and not notice the difference. But that woman looks so poor, those might have been her last two pennies. Her religion must be really important to her, that she would give so much. As far as I'm concerned, she gave more of herself than any of those rich people."


That's the story. It's a funny little story. Sometimes I think I understand it, and then I start asking myself questions. Why did people feel they had to give money to the Temple? If the woman was that poor, was she stupid to give her last two pennies to the Temple? If the rich people could have given so much more money to the Temple, and not even noticed it, then why didn't they?

Source: Mark 12.38-44.