When I was a child, I could walk not only around the neighborhood alone or with friends, but we could go even further and get to friends’ houses or go for bike rides and whatnot. A bunch of times I ran errands alone for my mother to stores that were about a ten-minute walk away. But the best places to go were the convenience stores, because there were two things there: bottle caps and baseball cards.
Back when I was a kid, Coke had game promotions where you could possibly win by uncovering the plastic undercover inside the bottle cap. You needed a pen or a small knife to get that baby off, but underneath the cover you could see your prize printed on the underside of the bottle cap. You redeem it in the store and you get your cash.
Plenty of people tossed their bottle caps on the ground back then without even checking for the prize, and since the bottle caps were made of metal, they could be easily squashed. So, every convenience store parking lot was a virtual prize hunt. It was an adventure to scour the parking lot to look for squashed bottle caps and hope that they had prizes in them, and to win 25 cents was to be able to get a pack of baseball cards. There was a literal high in discovering a still-covered, squashed bottle cap and being able to pry off the grey plastic coating to reveal what the prize might be. We never thought we were scroungy or bottom-feeders. To us, those caps were very valuable. It was a joy to discover the treasure in what others had thrown out. It was a joy to redeem.
In the little house I was living in in Ecuador for a bit, I had some leftover plastic bottles in a bag to be recycled. They were all squashed down and piled in together. I saved them up, because I knew eventually I would get visitors. A few kids from a family in the village would go around looking for extra plastic bottles to redeem. When they found out that I had a whole bag of bottles, you would think they were getting a cellphone. And when they found out I had a few huge leftover giant plastic water jugs from our youth group meeting, you would have thought Messi had walked through the door. Those kids are great redeemers.
There is a chapel in a shopping center in downtown Boston that is frequented by a man name Robbie I met over 10 years ago. He is in his 50’s, has a form of mental illness, looks homeless, and wanders about without engaging most people. We sit and talk every once in a while over a coffee. One day about 5 years ago, as I was passing by in the shopping center, I stopped and sat with him to talk. As we were talking about the things he likes to talk about, he described how he was now starting to feel better because of our conversation. He said he had been sitting there thinking about killing himself just when I came by, and now he’s not thinking about that anymore. I still see Robbie around. People around the chapel know him and support him and talk to him, and he spends time in the chapel praying. Altogether, it keeps him from falling over the cliff. Meanwhile, when he speaks, even though it’s clear he’s not quite mentally healthy, he is full of basic spiritual wisdom. He ends up lifting up a lot of people, though you wouldn’t know it. And you see him really light up when he gets to tell you about the love of God, about how Jesus has loved him He is a crushed bottle cap. Jesus is a great redeemer.
Wherever or whenever we feel like we are cast aside by someone, when our hearts or lives or hopes have been crushed by experiences with some of the hard realities in life, if we feel undervalued at work, in our home, or just marginalized and left behind by society, remember the bottle caps.
Jesus sees value in discarded, crushed, bottle caps.
He knows there’s a prize in you.
And he is a great redeemer.
“Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk 21:28)