A Tale of Three Coins


Most of us have some of them.  Those little pieces of stamped metal are in our pockets, purses, dressing tables and in jars stuck aside for “who knows for what.”  Coins are part of our everyday life.

It is because of their familiarity and their perceived value that they made the perfect tools for Jesus to teach lessons about hypocrisy.

In Mark 12:13-17 (RSV) we find “[that] they sent to him [Jesus] some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to entrap him in his talk. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a coin, and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.”  Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at him. 

Okay, fair enough no one likes paying taxes.  But, it was not what was really at issue here. They were not concerned with whether they should show proper respect to those who rule (Romans 13), but rather can we get Jesus to fall foul of either His followers (“Yes, pay the hated Romans”), or with the law (“No, show civil disobedience”). Jesus sees their hypocrisy, the text tells us, so responds to their trap in a way no one could object to.  He uses the simple coin to teach a real spiritual truth.  Money is of the world, devotion is of heaven.

Later in the same chapter (12:41-44), Mark relates an event in the Temple. “And he [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” 

In her there was no hypocrisy.  She made a gift of the heart. It was not an opulent display of her wealth, but the humble offering from her poverty.  While Mark does not expand on the circumstances of the rich’s offerings, Jesus comment makes one wonder if they [the offerings] were of the hypocritical sort He speaks of in Matthew 6:2-5: “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you (RSV).”

There we have it, three coins revealing God’s wisdom.  Two pieces of copper, and a disk of silver showing even greater riches.  Avoid hypocrisy. Let your true aims be revealed. Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

There’s my two cents’ worth (or mites if you rather).


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