January 30, 2014

Legal Tender II: Leaping Leptons and Divisive Denarii

[Continued from previous post]

Matthew 20 brings us to the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.

Matthew 20:1-8 ~“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

The Denarius is mentioned here is an entire day’s wage. It was a Roman currency. It was a medium-sized silver coin. The word denarius is derived from the Latin deni which means "containing ten", as its value was 10 asses/donkeys.

In this parable, the same amount is given to the people who worked all day and those that only worked an hour (and everyone in-between). Why? Because it’s a parable from the Lord that’s why! It is a parable about the Kingdom! It is God’s kingdom and it is God’s prerogative to do as He wishes. Both with His parable and those in His creation. God has made the rules simple to obey. Obey and be blessed. Disobey and be curses. Simple. God sets the terms of the agreement and He goes out and gets those He wants and He gives them the pre-arranged reward/recompense.

Just like the stipulations for getting paid in this man’s (God’s) vineyard. God wishes that none be lost in condemnation. All will receive just recompense for coming to the faith and belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This means the believer that becomes a believer as a youth and perseveres in the faith throughout their lives…and it is also for those that have a true deathbed conversion. It is not necessarily about how and where you convert to Christ in faith….it is that you convert at all. The Bible is clear…we are to enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.

Of course man’s sin enters into the parable in the form of envy. The human envy in this story (or envy in any situation) rubs right up against God and His attributes that delights in doing good. To envy is to imply that someone in this situation has been given more than they deserve. God has set the terms. It is not for man to question or second-guess God’s motives and purposes and envy is indirectly doing this. Envy in this situation puts a believer in direct violation of the two greatest commandments also.

Secondly, I mention the widow’s mite was properly understood as a Greek lepton which means small or thin. I actually have some of these in my coin collection.

Mark 12:42 ~ “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.”

They are quite small, about the size of a modern US dime.  They were considered fractional currency, therefore they were of minimal value which is part of the point of the incident in the Temple with Jesus and the widow. It tells us right within the verse that two λεπτὰ/ lepta were worth one κοδράντης / kodrantes (quadrans) a bronze coin. As can be seen by its prefix “quad”, it was a quarter of an “as” or more properly “ἀσσαρίων/ assarion”. Based on variables in economy, effects of inflation or deflation and debasement of content in the coins…this is probable. In the New Testament a coin equal to one half the Greek Attic chalcus worth about 3/8 of a cent. This is why the translation is the way it is in English. It is the closest monetary conversion.

So leptons were a common low value currency that had been in circulation for a long time. They would be common among the poor and as such they could be used in the Temple as opposed to other currency. Why? The other forms of currency had pagan images. The lepton did not contain images of pagan deities which would’ve been construed or understood as idolatry.

The entire point of the passage is clearly interpreted by Jesus explanation of it right in the text.

Mark 12:43-44 ~ “Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

The widow had no support and probably no other source of revenue to stay alive. This widow by putting the last of her money in the offering bin was essentially casting her fate into God’s hands in faith. If God did not provide for her…she was as good as dead. Widows supporting themselves and not being supported by other family members were usually ostracized from society and died a slow quiet death out of the view of society. They were treated like yesterday’s garbage. The forfeiture of her money would then be construed as fiscal suicide. She was taking an enormous leap of faith by giving all she had. She was “all in”…all or nothing.
The test of liberality is not what is given, but what is left." ~William Kelly
The other people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. As Jesus said, it was of their surplus. They were hedging their bets to play it safe. These people had already figured out would it would take to live comfortably and still had much left over. These were the rich and the “middle-class”. We see the same in middle-class evangelical America. Giving of surplus. Many of us, like those in this story are giving of our surplus. This should tell us something. These people (like many of us) are not giving before they got paid, they are giving after they balanced their books and had paid their bills so to speak. They knew what they could give from their “savings” and did so. There was no risk. They were going home to a comfortable “stash”. The widow was giving of what she really didn’t have. One lone person gives with profound risk in faith that God will provide. The others give with no risk and no faith having relied on themselves.

We could learn a lot from this about faith. I will leave it to the reader to mull this over themselves.

Lastly, I was going to close this post with the traitor Judas and the thirty pieces of silver that he betrayed the Son of God for but it does not fit the main context and premise of my post. The passage that refers to the pieces does not specifically state a named coinage or currency. It merely states 30 pieces of silver. By implication it can be taken as coins but what type are never clearly stated in the text. Due to this linguistic fact I will not be including it in this post.

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