The Gospel about Money

Why are the money changers robbers? 

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:12-13).

When reading this fragment of the Gospel, the question may arise – what kind of money changers are we talking about? The fact is that several monetary systems were in use in Judea at that time. Roman denariuses and Greek drachmas were in circulation along with staters, coins that the Jewish rulers of the Maccabean dynasty once minted in the city of Tire. These were the very pieces of silver received by Judas for betraying Christ. In everyday trade, all three types of money were used – denariuses, drachmas, and staters. The Jews paid taxes to the Roman emperor in Roman denariuses. But the annual tax on the Jerusalem temple and, in general, any monetary donation to the temple treasury could only be brought in pieces of silver. Therefore, the pilgrims first had to exchange their money for staters. This operation was carried out by the money changers, who set their tables right at the entrance to the Jerusalem Temple. They took a commission for their services, which was almost two-thirds of the amount exchanged. But the withdrawal of money from the pilgrims did not end there. After, on the received staters, they had to buy animals for sacrifice right there, in the courtyard of the Temple. They cost several times more here than in the city, but the pilgrims still bought animals from the Temple. The fact is that the temple workers checked all the sacrifices for defects (and one also had to pay for this check). After such an examination, a foreign product rarely received a positive verdict. To get rid of this procedure, people were forced to buy animals for sacrifices at the temple, at exorbitant prices. That is why Jesus called the money changers and cattle sellers thieves, robbing the worshipers.

What value is mite?

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. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 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: 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 (Mark 12:41-44).

The expression “внести свою лепту” (‘to contribute’, literally ‘to give your own mite’) has long and firmly entered Russian language. It is usually assumed that this is some very modest contribution. However, Christ, on the other hand, values the widow’s two mites above all rich offerings. What was this amount – two mites – during the time of the earthly life of the Savior? Mite is the smallest denomination for the money of that era. The name of the coin is Roman. But the fact that the widow place her donation to the treasury of the Temple indicates that the coin was of Jewish minting. The fact is that in addition to the Tyrian staters, the Roman occupation authorities allowed the Jews to mint a small copper coin – pruta. Most likely, the mite mentioned in the New Testament was a kind of Jewish pruta. As you can see in the text of the Gospel, two mites made up a codrant – also a small copper coin. Four kodrants were equal to one copper assarius. And sixteen assariuses could be exchanged for a silver denarius. So much was the salary of an employee for one day at that time. On that money one could buy a lamb. That is, the widow put in the treasury 1/64 of the value of the worker’s daily wages. But that was all the widow had. Greater level of poverty is hard to imagine. However, the Lord rewards, paying attention not to how much a person sacrifices, but to how much he has left after this sacrifice. Therefore, even today, each of us should not be embarrassed by the fact that, perhaps, he does not have enough funds for works of mercy in difficult times. Having even the most scanty income, we can and should help our neighbors to the extent that is available to us. Even if it’s very little money. In any case, it will probably be no less than two widow’s mites in value. But on the other hand, it will not be lower than those two mites at a price in the eyes of the Lord.

What is the most important talent?

Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:23-35).

Today the word “talent” is perceived exclusively in the context of another gospel parable – about buried talents. It is understood that this is some kind of gift received from birth, which cannot, as they say, be buried in the ground, but must be certainly developed. However, in the ancient world this word had a much more prosaic meaning and meant a measure of weight. Initially, in Greece it was equal to one standard amphora of water, approximately 26 liters. Over time, talent began to measure money. For example, among the Jews, the silver talent weighed about 44 kg. But this does not mean that there was a huge coin of such weight. Talent was exclusively a unit of account and was used to determine very large sums of money. So, in translation into Roman coins, the talent during the earthly life of the Savior was equal to 6,000 denariuses. It is not difficult to calculate that the debtor from the parable had to pay the king sixty million denariuses. And this amount, absolutely impossible to pay, was forgiven him, after what he refused to forgive his debtor’s immeasurably smaller debt, for what he was punished.

It is clear that in the parable the Lord speaks of forgiveness of any sins in which our neighbors are guilty before us. But in times of financial and economic crises, the literal meaning of this parable often also becomes relevant: for various reasons, people have debts to each other that they are not able to repay within the promised time. And, perhaps, here is just the right time to remember the parable of the merciless lender, to remember that, no matter how much money we have, they are all not ours, all are received by us under the control of the Lord. Who does not require us to report on their use just temporarily. But sooner or later, this report will have to be given by each of us. And perhaps then, the only excuse for someone can become a forgiven or deferred debt, for which he did not torment the debtor, like the ruthless creditor from the parable.


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