A coupon has no intrinsic worth other than the value a manufacturer prints on it.

A penny isn’t intrinsically worth a cent but its maker vouches for that value.

A debit card’s worth goes up and down, depending on the value its owner loads into it.

Today’s readings are a study of similar distinctions between worth and value.

In the first reading from Exodus, God loses His value in the estimation of the Israelites. They transferred that value to a molten calf—the intrinsic worth of which was limited to whatever the price of gold was in those days. God was worthy of a better valuation, and warned Moses that the people he led out of Egypt were about to be returned to the worthless dust from which they came.  Lucky for them, God valued Moses’ high estimation of those people’s worth and let Moses vouch for them.

In the second reading Paul confesses his unworthiness of Jesus’s high appraisal of this former persecutor of the Jews. But it was this worthlessness that was so valuable to Jesus, because he used Paul as an everlasting example. If this sinner could be appointed to the ministry of Christ, then succeeding generations of lost lambs would realize there’s hope for anybody.

Of course we know innocence was what Jesus valued most in God’s creatures, which is why he said it was worth abandoning a flock to recover just one lost lamb. And as Paul recovered his innocence by offering his soul to God, Jesus redeemed all sinners who threw themselves on the mercy of his court. In fact, he illustrated for the Pharisees their value in the eyes of God through the parable of the prodigal son.

None of us is worth what Jesus did to save us. But thank God for the value he sees in us.