He slowly walked down the narrow strip between all the little shops, each one seemingly identical to the other with only the vendor providing some semblance of variety. The heat was oppressive and he was pressed on all sides by a sea of humanity. It seemed as though everybody was trying to get someplace else by going down the same narrow alley. It certainly wasn’t his idea of how to spend an afternoon in the Holy Land. He wondered, as his eyes searched for that certain item, would it even exist and if so, where would it be? How would he find it amidst all this chaos?
The conversation several months earlier that had brought him to this point crept back into his conscious. It seemed an odd request then and it certainly had become a challenge. It was a simple promise made to a dear friend, one that he desperately wanted to keep but time was running out and he hadn’t made any progress. It seemed so insignificant and yet to his friend it was so very important. It was only on the flight over that he began to understand.
As he turned the corner into yet another alley his eyes fell on a shop filled with unusual brass ornaments and pots. At least, he thought, here was something different and it seemed to offer some relief from the heat. As he entered the shop the darkness hit his eyes and for a moment he was totally blind to everything around him. As his vision slowly adjusted to the shop’s interior he realized that he was alone. He called out but there was no answer, not even the sound of anyone working in the back. He was about to leave when the old man entered.
He appeared to be just like every other shopkeeper but there was something different about him. It wasn’t obvious but there was definitely something out of the ordinary here, something pleasant and peaceful. In fact the whole shop seemed out of place. The more his eyes grew accustomed to the light the more puzzled he became. This shopkeeper’s wares were entirely different than any of the others. Just then the old man spoke but not with the hurried sales pitch of his fellow tradesman, you have come a long way, please, sit here and rest. Before he could object the old man continued, have you found what you seek?
It wasn’t what he said but how he said it that bought the visitor up short. Oh no, I’m just looking was his automatic response but the old man insisted. Have you not found it then? He pointed to a black velvet case on the counter, perhaps it can be found among these. As he looked down, there in front of him were 10 or 15 highly polished coins of varying shapes and sizes. He couldn’t believe his eyes. How did the old man know? As he leaned over to examine the coins he noticed one very old and unpolished coin partially covered by a large gold piece. In and instant he knew this was it.
He gently picked it up and was taken with the simplicity of the coin. The engraving was all but worn off from the years of use. He wondered to himself as he turned the coin over in his fingers, this might have been one of the two. It would be impossible to know but just the thought gave him a warm feeling inside.
The coin was dull bronze in color and irregular, having long lost most of its original round shape. Interesting that one side had a cup or chalice imprinted on it representing a pot full of the manna that had fallen from heaven during the exodus. On the other side were 3 sprigs or plant buds representing the budding of Aaron’s rod. Inscribed around the buds in Hebrew were the words, Jerusalem Is Holy. How appropriate he thought, it fully reflected just what it was, the coin of lowest value. Yet he thought, to one person this was prized above all the gold and silver. He knew why his friend valued it so dearly. Just think this little piece of history could be well over 2,000 years old!
As he left the shop he still wasn’t sure how the old man knew he wanted the coin but he knew what was different. There was a deep and abiding peace in that old man’s face. It had taken a little effort to convince him that he really did want the little coin and not the bigger gold and silver pieces. Funny though, after all the haggling, when the old man handed him the little coin he smiled and whispered, it could be one of the two you know. It was as if he knew. He wondered himself but was so pleased that he actually had it in his possession after days of walking through the endless market place that he just wanted to get back to the hotel. He knew his friend would be pleased. He knew what it meant to him and now, he too had made a connection with this little insignificant coin.
As he laid down that night he felt the gentle breeze from the desert and he gazed up at the stars that seemed to fill the sky from top to bottom. What a wonderful and fascinating thing it was. God had his hand in every little detail of creation; from the stars down to the little coin in his brief case. He began to reflect on another time some 2,000 years earlier, right here in this very city …
Mark 12:41-44 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 44. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.
It was called the lepton and how little it represented to man. Its very name meant peeled or stripped very thin. It was the smallest piece of money in Israel and it took two of them to equal one cent (a quadrans). It wasn’t worth very much to man but oh how much it represented to Jesus. It is said that it represented one half a day’s wages. So here she was putting in all that she had earned the day before — all that she had — The Widow’s Mites. No wonder Jesus took time to call His disciples attention to what had just happened.
What did he know of the widow? Not very much he thought, but one thing for certain, she was poor. But poor here is not what we think of today, she wasn’t just a peasant. The word used to describe her was ptochos, which meant beggar or pauper, one who openly begs in public. And we notice one other very important thing about her. She threw in her sacrificial offering. The word ballo actually meant to throw in violently or intensely. Here was a destitute woman who did not hesitate for one moment to give all that she had to the Lord. Perhaps that’s what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians:
2Cor 9:6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
How interesting that Jesus stationed Himself next to the treasury to observe all those bringing their offerings. There were many that gave out of their abundance but none who gave as sacrificially as the widow. In fact, it was the custom of many to cast in an abundance of coins of small denomination. It was only done for show and certainly didn’t come out of a giving heart.
But there is another lesson contained in this picture that represented the reason for the long and tiresome search down the narrow alleys of that marketplace inJerusalem. A lesson concerning what that Widow’s Mite represents. As he lay there on that cool night inJerusalem he pondered an all too familiar scripture:
Luke 12:48(b) For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
Each of us, he thought, has gifts which the Lord has personally bestowed. We didn’t choose them and we didn’t go out and earn the; they are gifts pure and simple. While we tend to focus on those individual gifts we truly miss the whole reason why we have them in the first place. It’s not about the gifts but it is all about what we do with them. Just like those coming to the temple treasury in front of Jesus. Some gave little out of their abundance but the widow gave all out of her need. She committed everything that had been given her to the Lord and she committed it boldly and in public for all to witness. Have we done that? Have we committed the gifts He gave us to His Work or have we set our own agenda? He is stationed right next to the temple treasury — our heart — and He is observing not only what we do with our gifts but more importantly how we do it.
How often we focus on our own personal agenda and the path to accomplishing our goals and objectives. We pass through each and every day looking for the pieces to our own puzzle and we ignore the ones He has set in front of us. How many times have we, in pursuit of some lofty goal, passed right by an opportunity to make a difference and didn’t even know it? How many times have the gifts within failed to meet the need without? How many times have we compromised those gifts for our own benefit? Those questions continued to stir him as sleep finally made its entrance. The meaning of the coin was becoming much clearer with every passing hour.
It was a short week later when he saw his dear friend across the sanctuary and he hailed him with a big grin, mouthing the words, I got it! Moments later he watched as his friend slowly unwrapped the coin and held it in his hand, admiring it as if it were the large gold coin that had once partially covered it in the shop inJerusalem. In looking into his friend’s eyes he saw past the tears and knew what it meant. No words needed to be spoken between them, the moment and the meaning were all that mattered.
Even now, years later, his friend wakes up every morning and touches that thin little coin hanging on a chain around his neck. It reminds him that today is yet another opportunity to put all that he has into the treasury. To use what he has been given whenever and wherever the opportunity arises. To continue to develop the gifts within and look for the little moments in life when they can make a difference. A constant and gentle reminder that, like the widow, what he has belongs to the Lord, all that was yesterday is given for today. And sometimes in the early morning hours when all is still he too hears the voice of the old man in the shop and his heart quickens … this might have been one of the two.