What do you do when you misplace something important or valuable?
I sometimes do that. It can be anything from my car keys to a piece of paper with some vital information on it. When that happens, I try to retrace my steps: where was I the last time I had it? If that fails, I start tearing the house apart. I’ll even look in places that I know it couldn’t possibly be (No way I left my cell phone in the refrigerator, but I’ve looked everywhere else…).
In Luke 15:8-10, Jesus tells a parable about a woman who loses a single silver coin, an ancient Greek drachma. To some of us, that wouldn’t translate to a lot of money. But you get the sense from the story that the coin — which was one of only ten she had — was worth a great deal to her. If Jesus were to tell the story today, I imagine him describing someone on a fixed income who loses a monthly check.
What does she do? She makes a thorough search. Again, referencing Kenneth Bailey, we might imagine a small house made of stone, with high, narrow windows and little in the way of ambient light. The floor is flagstone, with seams between the stones that are filled with dirt and debris. It would be a simple matter for a coin to roll into a crack and be difficult to find.
So she lights a lamp; she sweeps; she peers intently into every crevice in the floor. And at last, to her great joy, she finds the coin.
The story is sometimes referred to as The Parable of the Lost Coin. But the name is misleading. The coin isn’t the main character, the woman is.
And if Jesus’ intent was to tell a story about how the lost get that way, a coin would be an odd choice of metaphor. We might talk about how clueless sheep can be, but not coins. They have no will of their own and make no choices (though I swear that my money sometimes spends itself).
As we saw in a previous post, the first parable was more about the good and reputable shepherd than the lost sheep. Likewise, this second parable is not about the coin, but about the woman’s diligent search, and her joy in finding what was lost.
If the scribes and Pharisees were prone to take offense at being likened to shepherds, they would be even more put off by being likened to a woman. But Jesus is still making the same point. You are offended by the people you consider to be lost sinners. You are offended at me for spending time with them and eating with them. Yet I tell you that God is like that shepherd; God is like that woman. If you would be like God in character, then you should also seek the lost — and rejoice when one is found.
Jesus has one more story to tell. It’s the best known of the three in Luke 15, and rightly so. It’s the one that best drives home God’s attitude toward the lost. And it’s the one that leaves the door open for the Pharisees to come home themselves. We’ll explore the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son in the next three posts.