U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew announced Wednesday that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson as the face of the $20 bill. The former president will move to the back of the bill where he will be incorporated into a redesigned image of the White House. Tubman will become the first woman on U.S. paper currency since Martha Washington’s brief stint on the $1 silver certificate in the late 1800s. She will also be the first African American on U.S. paper currency of any kind.
Even those who oppose the shift, such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson, agree that Tubman is worthy of such recognition, arguing instead that she should grace the cover of the $2 bill or a new denomination of currency. While Tubman is best known for her role in leading hundreds of slaves to freedom as an integral member of the Underground Railroad, she was also a spy for the North during the Civil War and an advocate for women’s rights in the early days of the women’s suffrage movement.
The decision to change the $20 bill, however, marks a shift from Lew’s original intent. When he first proposed the idea last year, his plan was to replace Alexander Hamilton as the face of the $10 bill. A combination of factors, not least of which is the popularity of the now Pulitzer Prize winning play Hamilton, led him to keep Hamilton on the cover and shift Jackson instead. The move makes sense considering Hamilton’s role as the country’s first Treasury Secretary and mastermind of the nation’s financial infrastructure, while Jackson opposed a national banking system and the paper money he has adorned for the better part of a century.
That Hamilton was an orphaned immigrant who rose from poverty to prominence also perhaps played a factor. One of the primary motivations behind the change coming to the $20 bill, as well as the proposed changes to other denominations, is to have currency that more accurately reflected our nation’s history and the principles on which it was founded. Hamilton’s story perhaps fits with those ideals in a different way than Tubman’s, but both speak to the aspects of our national character that Lew most wants to reinforce. The hope is that every time we look at our money, we’ll be reminded of something more.
The cross used to serve a similar purpose for Christians, and in many cases it still does. However, I know I tend to become so accustomed to seeing the symbol of our Lord’s death that it often serves as little more than decoration. I can glance at it without thinking of what Jesus did for me. I can wear it without being reminded of his sacrifice and the restored relationship with my heavenly Father I am graced to have as a result. And I can sing of its power without truly contemplating the impact it should have in my life. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar situation.
The great thing about symbols, though, is that, even when they become second nature, their power to help us remember is never truly gone. How much of a difference would it make in our lives if every time we saw a cross we truly took the time to give thanks for what it represents? How much closer would we walk with the Lord if every time it crossed our path we remembered the love that symbol represents?
In Deuteronomy 6, God gave his people what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4¬–5). He then instructed them to bind those words “as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8–9).
The idea was that the Israelites would be surrounded by the reminder that they were called to love God with every aspect of their being. The cross should serve as a reminder that God loves us the same way. Will it?