God’s Word for You
Mark 12:41-42 The Copper Magnificat
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 7, 2022
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 fraction of a penny. (NIV)
What a contrast between the verses that come before and these strange sentences. Mark records the Lord warning everyone who will listen against the showiness of the scribes and Pharisees, and then sitting down to watch the crowds of people pouring into the temple. The Jews who later wrote down their oral traditions in the Mishnah reported that there were thirteen boxes for receiving money in the Court of the Women. These boxes were topped by or attached to trumpet-shaped receptacles to make depositing coins easier. It’s easy to imagine the metallic slide of the coins as they went down the throats of the trumpets.
The distance of time, circumstances, and economy makes it hard to know what would have been thought of as “large amounts,” but the thirty silver coins Judas received was certainly a large sum. Perhaps there were families putting even that amount into the coffers.
Was there a bottleneck? Surely there were a number of elderly men and women moving a little more slowly than the rest of the press; one old woman was very much like another to most people watching. But Jesus’ eyes were on a particular woman. The click of her little coins was probably too quiet for anyone to hear. The lepta was worth almost nothing, The quadrans (penny) was worth about double that. The EHV’s note about these coins is this:
One lepton was a coin worth about 1/128 of an agricultural worker’s daily wages.
One quadrans was a coin worth about 1/64 of an agricultural worker’s daily wages.
As a widow, this woman should have been cared for by the church, but the church of the Jews (the temple and the synagogues) did not have a unified system for caring for them. There were orphanages, and while conditions were less than ideal, orphaned children had a bed and a meal. But widows were on their own, especially widows who were also childless. Usually they could not inherit their husband’s estate unless there were no children. An example of a widow’s expected estate going to her daughter-in-law’s second husband is the subject of the book of Ruth (see Ruth 4:9-10).
There were warnings against taking advantage of a widow (Exodus 22:22), and crops growing along the edge of a field or vineyard were to be available for widows and travelers to harvest for their own (Deuteronomy 24:19-20). But she had to find a place to live, and find some meager income if she could. Every third year, the people were to give ten percent of their income and crops to be distributed “to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless, and to the widow” (Deuteronomy 26:12), and so there was at least a provision for a distribution of money to widows under the judges and the kings.
Yet here there is a widow who is not pounding on the temple door to get her fair share. She is there to put what little she had into the treasury. Here we have a little Magnificat without words, without any tune apart from the scrape of thin copper coins on the bell of the brass trumpet above the collection box, and for a harmony the continuo and accompaniment of the crowd as they shuffled and babbled and gossiped in the line on their way to the temple court. This widow did not speak with words; she did not lift up her voice like Mary did. But she spoke with her simple act of faith. Her little copper Magnificat was glorious in the ears of the Lord. It said:
“I do not need to think whether I have enough, because I have faith in my God. He is to be glorified above all things. I want to make an offering to him. When I was a bride with jewels in my necklace and a husband to love, I had gold and silver to give my God and my Lord. How blessed I was, how happy I was in my marriage! Since everyone is tested by his praise; let God’s praise be above all other things. Let us praise him in his sanctuary (Psalm 150:1), in the firmament and in the heavens above. Praise God for all of the things he has done for me, or for preserving our nation of Israel while we await the coming of the Savior, the Christ! Today I am a widow with no one to look after me but my God, and I have no gold today, nor silver with which to thank him, but he still preserves me, and he gives me copper to live on. So I praise him with my little copper coins and a heart filled with gratitude, joy, and the expectation of a peaceful death and the resurrection to everlasting glory.”
With her action, she teaches us to strive to praise God first and foremost in life. First, we praise God by seeing what he has done for us. The widow had nothing to give but her little copper coins, but she gave them gladly, proudly, showing what God had given to her to give. How many wealthy men and women could give with such clarity of thought? Her faith was in that action of considering her coins, putting them into her little purse or bag, traveling to the temple, and getting to the line of believers thronging into the temple.
Second, after considering what the Lord had done, she responded. This was her act of getting out the coins and dropping them into the coffer; letting go of what God had given. She was not teaching us to give away everything and live as beggars; she knew that God would continue to bless her, perhaps with begging or perhaps not (we cannot say), but what little she had, she gave. She didn’t make it a showy sermon. She didn’t look around to see who saw what she did, but she wasn’t embarrassed about her gift, either. But Jesus saw, and Jesus pointed her out to us.
When we proclaim what God has done, we do it to three or even four audiences. First, we proclaim to God himself, “by showing forth the works he has done, to him” (Luther, LW 21:319). This is the private confession of faith and inner song of praise by which we recall in prayer and in our memory the glorious gifts of God, the wonderful things he has done in our lives and the world that we realize have affected us so very deeply. We give him glory for his works on our behalf.
Next (and really at the same time), we proclaim him to ourselves. This is recalling, rehearsing, and recognizing God’s hand in our lives. This is truly what it means to count our blessings, that he blesses us with peace (Psalm 29:11), that he blesses our children through us (Psalm 147:13), and that he blesses the home of the righteous (Proverbs 3:33). We might be cursed and reviled by people all around, but because we trust in Christ, we are a blessing even to ourselves. The habits of my Christian childhood follow me through the dark and difficult pathways later in life, but my own study of God’s word is a blessing to my future self. “Anyone on earth who blesses himself will bless himself by the God of Amen (or Truth), for the past troubles will be forgotten” (Isaiah 65:16).
Of course, when we proclaim and describe what good things God has done for us, we are also proclaiming his greatness to anyone who hears, as Mary’s first Magnificat was heard by Elizabeth and the servants of her house. And more than that, we proclaim these things as the law to the wicked, for when I count my blessings, they are shown to be the blessings that come to his beloved people, and either they should know better, having once (perhaps) believed themselves, or else they should know better since even the tool of human reason tells us that gifts come from a Giver.
So after prayer and meditation, we proclaim what our Lord has done. Perhaps someone’s singing voice is better than another’s. Does that mean that God loves the one voice but not the other? Didn’t God love the faint rasp of the widow’s copper Magnificat? Other coins make louder and cleaner, purer sounds. But God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and God sees our faith and our thankfulness in everything that we do.
Pastor Timothy Smith