In particle physics, one of the smallest classes of elementary particles is the lepton. Yes, quarks are smaller, but most all of us probably recognize the electron from science class (and maybe even the positron / anti-electron, whether from science fiction, or a more advanced physics course). The lowly electron doesn’t substantially contribute to the mass of atoms, molecules, and compounds around us, but it carries charge and is fundamentally responsible for electricity, electronics, and other life-impacting technology (like fitness activity trackers).
As a result, it seems fitting that the same Greek word is used for the denomination of coin that Jesus observed a poor person giving to the Jewish Temple in the first century:
Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
Mark 12:41-44 NLT
Those “two small coins” were each a Greek coin called the lepton (plural lepta). I don’t think that the specific value of these coins is terribly critical, but the main point is that these represented a pretty small amount of money. In my country, we’d probably think of these as pennies or other change. (Similarly, I understand the current Greek lepton, as a unit of currency, to be one Euro cent.)
When dining at a restaurant (at least in my country), leaving pennies is actually considered an insult to a server. Some places even have a penny box, for patrons to leave them when they have a few extra, and take one if their bill is a penny or two over a round dollar amount. While the phrase, “a penny for your thoughts” still persists (although it is rare), one or two cents is such a small amount that sometimes it’s better to not give it to others, and it might not be worth the extra weight in your purse or pocket.
Still, while our fundamental perception of money this hasn’t necessarily changed much since Jesus’ day, He still recognized the amount as significant. To me, this illustrates that conventional logic – i.e., “He who has the gold makes the rules” (the “other” golden rule) – does not apply in God’s Kingdom. (That is, this is not the “golden rule” that Jesus taught.) While Jesus did teach a lot about the proper use of (and attitude towards) money, He also spoke at length about the content of our hearts, and how it flows out to our actions.
The first point in this article isn’t about how much money we give, though (although that’s a good topic for another day). Instead, it is about whether or not our contributions are significant. When a pastor or speaker talks about gifts in the Body of Christ, some people still believe that they have “nothing” to offer. They feel like their abilities, opportunities, or disposition don’t match what are sometimes considered “big gifts” (maybe preaching, prophecy, or leading worship?), and therefore they feel less useful.
Here’s the good news: If God can use an amount of money so small that we named a class of subatomic particles after it, we should not think that He can’t use what we have to offer. God could provide an example of faith using two lepta (and a willing person who was willing to trust God with her last coins). He can certainly use what you have to offer in His plan.
The other observation from this passage is that faith is best demonstrated when we give beyond just our surplus. There’s little trust expressed in sharing something that you don’t need. While it may be kind to donate your extra household goods and outgrown clothing to charity (which is perfectly ok), this doesn’t really test or show anyone’s faith. In fact, some take this to an extreme, and give their junk or trash to charitable organizations, expecting a tax deduction without really benefiting anyone else.
God is not impressed that you can give a lot of your extra money. He may call you to be generous, but you’re not necessarily going to win any extra favor from Him when giving from your overflow. After all, He created everything (so He is just watching you manage His belongings), and He made it so that you could obtain everything you have in the first place (see James 1:17).
As a result, I encourage us all to take what we have – not just the extra or “leftovers” – and use it for God’s purpose. I won’t propose to tell you what He is specifically calling you to do today, but whether your contributions are large or small (by human standards), we can be confident that you have a place in His plan.