The Lost Coin

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Throughout Lent, we’re exploring the parables of Jesus – the two dozen or so stories that were his chief means of describing the reality of God’s rule on earth. 

Jesus told three parables of redemption – a trio of stories in which something lost is found.

They appear back-to-back-to-back in the 15th chapter of Luke.

The first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep.  The third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Christians have enthusiastically embraced the powerful metaphors in these stories.  God is the shepherd who will come looking for us when we are wandering in the wilderness.  And God is the heartbroken father, yearning for reconciliation, waiting at the front door to meet us when we come home. 

Squeezed in between those familiar stories is a parable that, by contrast, receives little attention.  Significantly, the person who has the starring role – the character who represents the heart of God – is a woman:

“Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”  (Luke 15:8-10)

For 20 centuries, Christians have hesitated to associate female attributes with God (even though the Bible does so in several texts).  And the Church has struggled mightily to act as if women are the spiritual equals of men – equal bearers of the divine image, equally gifted by the Holy Spirit, and equally called to be disciples who make disciples. 

This is all the more disappointing because Jesus himself seems to have had no such struggles.

Bible scholars have pointed out that every time Jesus interacts with women in one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), he violates a cultural taboo. It was subversive to talk to a woman in public, to treat females with dignity, and to teach them lessons from Scripture.  Jesus did all of these things. 

In a world that unhesitatingly regarded women as second-class citizens, Jesus was counter-cultural.   

In ancient Greece, women of all ages were legally classified as children.  It didn’t matter if she was intellectually gifted.  Her contributions were discounted or ignored.   

Around the Mediterranean world, including Judea, female testimony in a court of law was considered suspect.  Women were thought incapable of discerning reality.  When Jesus’ disciples heard the first reports of the empty tomb – the women alone had been there to check things out for themselves – their stories were regarded as hysterical. 

Significantly, females were defined primarily by the males in their lives.  A woman was identified as somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife.  Her father “gave her hand” in marriage.  If we hear that expression in America today, it’s generally a sign of tenderness.  But for most of human history it has represented a contractual arrangement – an exchange of property.  That idea is still valid in much of the world.   

This is not to say that the West has been way ahead of the curve. 

Only in the last century have women been able to vote, publicly teach groups of men, pursue advanced academic degrees, and dream of leading their own corporations.  When it comes to embracing the idea of mutual equality and dignity for women and men, we must admit during this Women’s History Month that we still have a very long way to go.    

In 1915, the brilliant writer Dorothy Sayers became the first woman ever to earn a degree at Oxford.  After becoming a follower of Jesus, she made these oft-quoted observations:

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.  They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another.  A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them; who never treated them as, “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without [demeaning] and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend.

When it comes to honoring women, is it possible that after two millennia we still haven’t caught up with Jesus?

The Parable of the Lost Coin is only three short verses.  But it stirs emotions that must have been familiar to Jesus’ original audience.

The woman has 10 silver coins.  The Greek word here is drachma, which (like the denarius), was worth about a day’s wages.  In today’s money, she has about 10 x $100, or $1,000.  This is probably the family savings account.  Imagine her panic when she goes to count her coins one night and only finds nine.  Ten percent of her 401(k) is missing.  Has she dropped it?  Was it stolen? 

She can’t wait until morning.  She takes her oil lamp and searches “every nook and cranny” of her packed-earth floor.  She sweeps every corner and every seam.  She looks under mats and shards of pottery – once, twice, three times – always looking at things from a different angle.

And then, at last, she sees a glint of silver.  It’s here!  After hours of anxiety, all is well.  

She can’t wait to tell her neighbors.  They’ll join her in screaming for joy.

Jesus says, “This is how God feels whenever you’re off the spiritual grid.  His heart is beating hard.  He’s desperate to find you.  And he won’t stop searching.”

Who is this God who cares that much about you?

He’s the Good Shepherd.  And the Waiting Father. 

And the Searching Matriarch who will throw a party the minute she knows you are safe.