a shopgirl stuck in Genesis

Jesus' trick coin

I know I talked about this a month ago during the time for children and I promise I won’t only repeat myself, but I want to delve deeper into the idea that Jesus has a trick coin. I think we are all familiar with the idea of flipping a coin to answer a question. The question has to be kind of simple though, right? The answer is only going to be “heads” or “tails.” I think this appeals to many of us because it presents a simplified view of the world, that things can be broken down into only “yes” or “no”. No maybe or grey or sometimes or perhaps or if only.

Just one side. Or the other. 

I’ve created my own coin, we’ll call it the surprise coin. One side of the coin has an open eye, the other side has a closed eye. Only two possible answers.

Eyes closed: Surprise! You weren’t paying attention to what was around you, were you? You might as well have been asleep. Whatever comes along is unexpected, and there’s no way that you could have planned for it. It is probably so far out of the realm of possibility that you can’t even conceive of it.

Eyes open: you see what’s coming. You are not surprised, are you? Based on previous experience, you can make assumptions about what is going to happen next. You packed the sweater and the sandals. Your eyes take in all of your surroundings and learn from them. You are Ready.

And I have to admit, this is how I usually think of myself. Growing up, our mom planned out the meals for the whole week, so I know I come by it honestly. I spend a lot of time looking ahead, thinking about possible outcomes, watching and listening for cues that tell me what to say or do. I feel pleased with myself because I accomplish what I planned to do. It is common for Tuesday dinner conversations to center around what to eat on Thursday and Friday. 

I am Ready.

In fact, I am so ready, that I wouldn’t mind if this was my trick coin. There’s an open eye on both sides. Every time, no matter how it lands, the answer is eyes open. You see things clearly, you KNOW things. You are ready.

But this was the trick coin that Jesus was constantly pushing against. It is true of his time, it is certainly true of ours. We walk around knowing and we forget how much we don’t know. We walk around planning and thinking for the future, and we forget to be in the moment. We walk around with our eyes open, but our eyes are only open to that which we know and have experienced already. Sometimes with our eyes open this way, they can be shut to so much else. Sometimes when we are focused on what our eyes see, we forgot what our other senses are telling us.

Time and again, Jesus comes across people who are operating with this trick coin. Every time they flip it, they KNOW what the answer is going to be. Who knows the most, is it the grown-ups or the kids? Who has the best ideas? is it the men or the women?

Who can be most helpful? Someone we know who is a neighbor to us? or someone we don’t know who came from far away and we’re not really sure we ever liked them? Who is best? the people who have money and power? or the people who have nothing?

In a lot of cases, the answers were always the same: the men, the leaders, the people with power, the people we know, the people who look the way we look, the grown-ups.


Sound familiar? Painfully so, to my ear, but that just gives credence to the timelessness of Jesus’ message.

Because Jesus challenges us with a new trick coin. Jesus’ trick coin has eyes closed on both sides. I would argue that this new trick coin is at the core of the reason for Jesus here on this earth.

Jesus says: your eyes are closed to the possibility of everyone around you. Every single time I ask the question, you give me an answer that shows me that your eyes are closed to surprise. 

Flip this coin, Jesus invites, and no matter how many times you do, my answer is the same. 

Flip this coin, Jesus challenges, and you will think about answers in ways you never thought of before. 

Flip this coin, Jesus entreats, and I will show you all the ways that your eyes are closed to surprise.

Flip this coin, Jesus dares you , and you will not be satisfied with the answers that were simply visible.

Every single time. Every single question. Your eyes are closed. You cannot see everything.

What if you see the poor? the people you don’t know? the powerless? the women? the children? What if you saw the grace that is in sorrow and in pain?

Why do you close your eyes against these sights?

The disciples argue amongst themselves. Who is the best? It must be the one who knows the most or talks the most, right? Jesus calls over a little child.

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

A large crowd of people gathers, and you know some of them were wondering what they were going to eat for lunch, how impossible it would be for so many people to walk away fed. But there were loaves and fishes, there was abundance and generosity. There was the easing of hunger.

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

A man was traveling to Jericho when he was set upon by robbers. Who would help him? Would we extend our hands to help those we do not know, to those who might generally despise us?

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

And then of course there is Easter morning. The women go to Jesus' tomb. They already know what to expect. But our eyes may as well be closed because what we see we cannot believe. 

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

Now, honestly? I don’t like surprises. Or, I don’t think I like them. Who wants to walk around with their eyes closed? I like to think that I am prepared, that my eyes are open. I like to think that I’ve taken everything into careful consideration and thought of all the possibilities and all the responses to those possibilities.

I am as likely as anyone to look back 2 years, 10 years, or more, to ask myself how that history shows me what works best, what brought success.

I am just as likely to see a person through the lens of people who came before them, who maybe looked or acted similarly, to base my interaction on history rather than on present. It’s not laziness, really, but there is carelessness in the simplicity and ease of following established patterns.

And yet, my work as small business owner has shown me that there is grace in surprise and that even unpleasant surprise can have deep and heartfelt reverberations.

Honestly, one of the biggest challenges of being an introvert with my job is being on the sales floor 6 days a week, not knowing the people who come to me, what pain or sorrow they carry with them. Time and time again, I find out that where I thought my eyes were open, they were actually closed. 


One example can be found in our table filled with political buttons, a feature since the Governor first took office. The importance, to my mind, is the way it prods us to invite an opening of eyes and hearts, just as Jesus reminds us of the ways our eyes are closed and all things are unknown. The button table is our connection to connect with each other.

I am well aware of at least some of the people who are displeased by our politics. They don’t usually yell at me or storm out, but there’s a certain undertone of distaste that I can often pick up on, a glare shot my way, an under-the-breath comment about the lack of All Lives Matter buttons. So, it is tempting to divide the world into people with buttons and people without. To declare that my eyes are open to people’s motivations and lives, that I see them, and know them, based simply on the presence or purchase of buttons. Hmm. that sounds dangerously close to the Star-Bellied Sneetches, doesn’t it? That story from Dr. Seuss which ended up with those poor Sneetches being completely fleeced by the con artist who persuaded them there was value in separating themselves by stars-on and stars-off.

It is true that when someone walks through the door wearing some of our buttons I do relax my guard a bit. Rarely are we in 100% agreement with each other though - like the people who buy buttons but drip coffee on paper goods. Or the people who agree with me about civil rights but unfold all the t-shirts. And then there are people who might not agree with me about the Governor but we find common ground in our love of this state, or maybe it is just that we both like stickers of cats dressed up as food. Sometimes the surprises and the connections are the smallest of things, but isn’t Jesus prodding us to explore that which our eyes were previously closed to?

What if where we think we see anger, we open our eyes to sorrow and pain? What if where we think we see bad manners, we open our eyes to the multitude of demands on our attention and  the ways we can’t always keep up? What if realizing the ways our eyes are closed helps us to open them?

Jesus flips the coin and the answer is Surprise.

Our store recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and I have spent a lot of time looking back to 2008. I had a customer come up to me once and tell me: I can’t believe I am wishing for Tommy Thompson days. Whoever saw that coming?

I can honestly say that I couldn’t have predicted that I would be at this exact place in my life. My path has had some unexpected twists. The world has taken some unexpected twists. It’s inevitable, right? Don’t we all have Tommy Thompson days that have some element we find ourselves wishing for? Think back to who and where you were 10 years ago. Is everything exactly the same? Have there been any surprises? Of course there have been. Some of the surprises have been bad, heartbreaking, yet even those have brought unexpected moments of grace to life. Joy AND sorrow have opened your eyes in ways you couldn’t expect.

Even if you could, would you give away surprise and unexpected connections in exchange for certainty? Would it have been somehow better if you had known all the events in advance, prepared for every one? Is there nothing that would have been lost in the absence of surprise, if your eyes had been open to everything? It turns out, I am not so averse to surprise as I thought.

Jesus invites us to the awareness that we cannot know all the answers, conquer all the surprises. He scolds us with our preoccupation with power and wealth and shows us that these measurements are meaningless in the realm of God, that it is the least among us who have the most. He reminds us that our eyes are closed in so many ways but invites us to open them to the magic and mystery of the world. 

Jesus flips the coin, and the answer is surprise. Amen.

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