“And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:9,10).
Have you ever lost something precious before?
A few years ago I went mountain biking and took my small, “tough” camera with me for the ride. After zipping down and around the bumps and berms, I decided to rest and take some photos of the lush ferns and the tall trees. Excited to get back on my bike, I carelessly threw my camera into my backpack, not realising that I forgot to zip up the pocket I threw it into. I continued riding and it wasn’t until I stopped again that I realised my camera was not in my bag. Since it was a one-way track, the only way I could go searching for it was to complete the 13 kilometre loop once more, but even then, I was not guaranteed to find it. My heart sunk. I wasn’t sad about losing the camera; rather, what upset me more was the loss of the precious memories that my camera contained.
In the Gospel of Luke we are introduced to a woman who also lost something precious to her: a silver coin.
The “Parable of the Lost Coin” is only three verses long, between the two more well-known parables: the Prodigal’s Son and the Lost Sheep. The audience that gathered around Jesus came from all segments of society. Most were eager to hear what He was saying, but along with them, were some Pharisees and teachers who were eager to catch Him doing or saying something wrong. They’re offended because Jesus is spending so much time with common people, to the point where He is eating with them. To eat with a sinner or tax collector was to defile oneself. The Pharisees were guardians of tradition and strict adherents to the law. For a Pharisee, righteousness came through separation from “sinners” and ritual purity.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1,2).
Jesus knows that the Pharisees and teachers are upset, and instead of rebuking them right then and there, which He could have done, He chooses to share three parables, one of which is the parable of the Lost Coin.
“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Jesus had asked those listening in, including the Pharisees and teachers of the law, to think like a shepherd in the parable preceding this one. Shepherds were considered unclean. Now, Jesus invited them to imagine themselves as a woman, which would have been an even greater insult. In Jesus’ day, most women had no voice in their future. It was not uncommon for their husbands to be selected for them, and they were often engaged at the age of 12 or 13. Once married, a woman was “owned” by her husband, who could treat her as he pleased. The coin she lost may have been one of 10 she received from her family when she married, a kind of dowry.
This coin was probably a Greek drachma, equivalent to a full day’s work for a farm labourer. It is interesting to note that this is the only time that this kind of money is mentioned in the New Testament. By the time this story was told by Jesus and recorded by Luke, the value of the drachma declined considerably. Why is this significant? Because to the rest of the surrounding world, the woman’s loss wasn’t significant as the coin wasn’t worth much. But this woman knew the true value of her coin, even though no-one else did.
In Jesus’ day, a typical house of someone from the poorer classes consisted of one small, windowless room made from clay or stone. A coin could easily get lost in such a setting, falling to the ground, quickly covered by dust and rubble. In order to find the coin in such a dark setting, this woman lights a lamp. Through lighting the lamp, she burns oil. Perhaps she spends more money on the fuel of the lamp than the value of her missing coin. The cost of this retrieval is not cheap for someone who is already poor. We see quickly that she is doing whatever it takes to retrieve the lost.
The lamp hasn’t helped her find her coin so she brings in her broom and sweeps the entire house for the sole purpose of finding the coin; she’s determined! It has has taken a lot of effort; but eventually she spots a small, circular object covered in dirt on the ground. She leans over, picks it up and rubs it on her sleeve. With a sigh of relief she clasps it in her hands and runs outside and knocks on her neighbours’ doors, and says, “Guess what I’ve just found? My coin! Come over and celebrate with me!” Imagine inviting all of your neighbours to celebrate with you; it’s not a cheap event. Perhaps the celebration she stages for finding the piece of silver would have cost more than the face value of the coin.
As the coin bears the image and superscription of the reigning power, so man at his creation bore the image and superscription of God. Although marred by sin, the traces of inscription remain upon every soul. No matter how lost or dirty we are, God sees the value of the silver in us.
Imagine the people listening in as Jesus shared this parable; the peasants, the sinners, the tax collectors. All their life they were regarded as the dross of society. But as they listened to the words of Jesus, perhaps for the first time they understood their value to God and His kingdom. Through the parable of the lost coin, Jesus declares that He doesn’t merely receive, welcome and eat with sinners, He is diligently searching for them until He finds them! They are astonished to learn that when a sinner is lost and then found, heaven holds a celebration!
In the book, Christ’s Object Lessons, the lesson from the parable is summarised as follows: “This parable, like the preceding, sets forth the loss of something which with proper search may be recovered, and that with great joy. But the two parables represent different classes. The lost sheep knows that it is lost. It has left the shepherd and the flock, and it cannot recover itself. It represents those who realise that they are separated from God and who are in a cloud of perplexity, in humiliation and sorely tempted. The lost coin represents those who are lost in trespasses and sins, but who have no sense of their condition. They are estranged from God, but they know it not. Their souls are in peril, but they are unconscious and unconcerned. In this parable Christ teaches that even those who are indifferent to the claims of God are the objects of His pitying love. They are to be sought for that they may be brought back to God.
“The sheep wandered away from the fold; it was lost in the wilderness or upon the mountains. The piece of silver was lost in the house. It was close at hand, yet it could be recovered only by diligent search.”
The woman in the parable searches diligently for her lost coin. She lights the candle and sweeps the whole house. She removes everything that might obstruct her search. Although only one piece is lost, she doesn’t stop until she finds it!
Isn’t that a beautiful picture of Jesus?
Jesus sees the true value in people that the world dismisses as unsightly and unpromising. Christ risked all for you. Christ risked all for those you pass in your daily activities: the retail store attendant, your gym instructor, your work colleagues, those you pass on the street with no roof over their heads. Every single person on planet earth is valuable to Him. Do you see them as Christ does?
Everywhere around us there are people lost in their sins and who are waiting to be found. Some people are close by: lost in our churches or even lost in our homes. What can you do to reach them? Some may need a listening ear. Others may need a meal. Some may need a word of encouragement. Others may need a prayer. Some need you to sit with them. Don’t be so quick to dismiss people as hard-hearted; angels will help you reach these people; they are not out of reach of the Holy Spirit.
A couple of days after I lost my camera at the mountain bike park, I received a text message from an unknown number informing me that my camera had been found. I couldn’t believe it! On the day it was lost, I wrote my contact details on a scrap piece of paper I found in my car and loosely pinned it onto the park noticeboard, not in any way hopeful that the camera would be returned. I was wrong. As I flicked through the precious memories stored on the camera, I was elated! The grief I had experienced for the past few days was replaced with delight! I was reunited with my precious memories.
God has an everlasting love and care for those who others often despise. Every time someone responds to Him and is found, He throws a celebration!
Rosemary Andrykanus is assistant youth director, at the Victorian Conference.