I’ve always believed that great stories make great coins.  Without a good story, a coin is little more than a small lump of stamped metal.  Obviously, some metals are more expensive than others, and even the most boring coins struck in gold will find an enthusiastic audience.  But a coin without a story is a bit like a strawberry without cream, Laurel without Hardy, a library without books. 

Fortunately, most coins have really interesting stories.  Coins don’t just happen.  They are a culmination of decisions, actions, reasons and personalities.  Unravelling these can be very rewarding. 

A short while ago I was speaking to a group of young people in church about Jesus’ response the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?”  The question was, I explained, a cunningly designed trap laid by the religious leaders and lawyers who were terrified of Jesus’ popularity and wanted to stop him at all costs.  If Jesus answered yes, he could be accused of being a puppet for the hated Roman occupation, which would divide and demoralise the crowds that followed him.  If he answered no, his enemies would have an excuse to arrest him for being an enemy of Rome.

According to the gospel account, Jesus’ response is to ask someone in the crowd to bring him a penny.  He then asks them whose face appears on it.   ‘Caesar’s” they cry.  Jesus replies, “Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God”.  After that, Jesus walks away and his enemies go back to the drawing board.

After sharing my Bible story, I looked up and saw that some of my group were struggling to remain conscious.  It was an unusually warm Sunday morning, and so I’d like to think that it was the humidity in the room rather than my talk that was responsible for this.  However, my wife once helpfully suggested that we could be millionaires if I gave up the day job and sold tapes of my lectures as a guaranteed cure for insomnia.  But I digress.  I had a secret weapon in my pocket to rescue the situation, and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

As the last eyelid in the room prepared to close, I pulled out a genuine tribute penny and held it up for everyone to see.  Suddenly every student was wide-awake and staring intently as I passed the Roman denarius around the room and invited people to hold it.  Everyone did.  Then the questions started flowing.  “Is it real?” “How expensive is it?”, “Where has it been for the last two thousand years?”,What does the inscription say?”, “Where can I get one?”, and my personal favourite “Is this the actual coin that Jesus saw?”

That’s the power of coins.  They can rescue even the dullest history lesson.  No one can hold an old coin in their hand and not think about the hands that have held it before them.  They are like miniature time machines and their stories are the keys that activate them.   

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