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The Parables of Luke 15, Part 4:  The Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-3, 8-10)

The Parables of Luke 15, Part 4: The Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-3, 8-10)

by The Reverend Dr. Roman D. Roldan on December 22, 2021

(Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the
Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and
eats with them.’ So he told them this parable:) ‘what woman having ten silver coins, if
she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until
she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying,
Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy
in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

At face value, we may think that this story just repeats the themes of the first parable, but I believe this is a radical short story that advances Jesus’ thinking forward. Before we get into this story, however, let us say something about the switch in setting from the Lost Sheep to the Lost Coin. We move from the vastness of the fields in the Lost Coin to the close quarters of the home. “The home of a person of the poorer classes, such as this woman, was generally small. It had a dirt floor and either no windows or very small ones.”1 The houses were arranged fairly close to each other with shared courtyards. Water was often taken from public wells and stored in cisterns for communal cooking. The only lightening available to the home would have been earthenware oil lamps. People had only a few belongings, which meant every cooking utensil, sleeping mat, item of clothing, or jewelry piece had value beyond its actual monetary cost.

Many of us are familiar with dirt floors because of our several international mission trips. One of the most frequent complaints in the villages is the never-ending need to sweep. Dirt floors become dusty during the hot months, creating a light coating of fine powder over all surfaces. During the cold months the dirt floors become humid and even muddy, making it necessary to cover portions of it with carpets or animal hides. This darkness and dustiness of the house and the smallness of the coin are elements that intensify the drama of the search. The coin is priceless and there is a lot at stake for the woman personally, and for the family, if the coin is not found. This woman must find this coin! The difficulty of the task heightens the joy at finding it.

In the story of a lost coin, we have a “one-person drama,” whereas in the Lost Sheep we can assume that there were two or even three shepherds tending the sheep. In this case, there is no reason to believe that the woman engaged anyone else in the search; had someone else in charge of her chores, while she looked for the coin; or notified the community of the loss. It is very likely that the woman told no one until the coin was found because “in a traditional village wealth is hidden.”2 Likewise, there is no apparent burden of restoration and there is no sense that the celebration had anything to do with communal property, as is the most likely scenario in the Lost Sheep. This was an alone woman, looking for her lost property, within the confines of her small home. This more intimate, quiet, and domestic setting advances the case already made in the Lost Sheep and provides valuable insight into Jesus’ brilliance as a teacher.

Some believe that this money could have been what was left of the woman’s dowry.3 Bailey believes that perhaps the woman was the keeper of the family’s “cash box.”4 Jeremias believes that this woman may be a widow and this money represents the family’s assets after the husband’s death.5 Any of these interpretations may be correct, but the parable does not tell us how this woman came to possess these coins. In any case, “the coin may have come loose from some sort of jewelry, such as a necklace or an ornamental headband.”6 Bailey concurs that “village women do wear coins on necklaces. Obviously, the beauty of the necklace as a whole is destroyed when one coin is lost. Again, the loss is more than the value of a single coin.”7

We often neglect to notice the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching. There are a number of extraordinary features that are important to Luke: Jesus associates with women, women are presented as disciples, Jesus uses women as main characters in his stories, and women are the first witnesses of the resurrection. The central role of women in Jesus’ ministry would have been very strange in First Century Palestine. Even today the status of women in many Middle Eastern countries is problematic. Women are treated as inferior, and in some cases, as property. Yet, Jesus has no problem associating with them, speaking to them in public places, treating them with kindness, eating and drinking with them, and accepting them as disciples and friends.

Many have understood the woman in this story to represent God, which have led them to say that this parable represents the female nature of God. Mary Ann Beavis says, “It is hard work; it is a struggle to find what we are seeking in the darkness that has covered it for so many centuries. But it is also characterized by joy and celebration, and by hope: a hope that assures us that God is with us. God has her skirts tucked up and is busy sweeping and searching, too.”8 The image of God having her “skirt tucked up” is a powerful image, but it goes beyond the scope of this parable. After all, this parable is directed at Pharisees and the implication is that all of us, men and women, are responsible for seeking the lost.  The theological meaning of this parable is joy in community over the finding of the coin that was lost. It is possible that it is the men of the village who celebrate the return of the lost sheep. It is also likely that the women of the village are the ones who join in the celebration with this woman who has found her priceless coin.  

The passage concludes in verse ten by telling us, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” There is a communal celebration in heaven over sinners who repent. Ultimately, this is not the story of a coin that is found, but the story of a sinner who comes to repentance. As such, this tale is a condemnation of the exclusiveness of the Pharisees and the scribes who criticize Jesus for receiving and eating with sinners.

This parable enhances the theological meaning of the Lost Sheep in significant ways: First, there is the value of the coin. Notice that the item lost is one in ten, whereas the sheep is one of a hundred. We could then say that this item is of more symbolic value than the lost sheep. We will see this intensification reach a climax in the parable of the Lost Son, where the person lost is one of two. Each “lost” is surpassed in value by the “lost” in the next parable. The theological significance is clear. Regardless of the perceived value of the thing or person lost, “God seeks sinners, and rejoices over even one of them who repents and is converted. So, should not you, Pharisees and scribes, be concerned about those people you now despise?9

Another area of significance is the small size of the home. We know from the start that the woman will eventually find her coin, if she is diligent. This brings great hope to many who are lost. If the Church is diligent in our efforts, we will be able to find them as well. No one is beyond finding and beyond rescuing. God’s diligent love will find even the dustiest of unrepentant sinners. No one is really unworthy of finding for our seeker God. There is also the amazing grace of being found when we have done nothing to make ourselves worthy of finding. “The lostness described here is a different kind from the lost son or the lost sheep. The coin didn’t wander off; there is nothing willful about its separation from the housewife.”10 This is significant to many who feel lost because they have been the victims of circumstances beyond their control. Victims of childhood abuse, neglect, and domestic violence often find themselves alone in the world, not because of personal sin, but because of the sin of others. This wonderful little story breaths hope into their lives. God sees their pain and will find them in due time.

This week of Christmas we will remember the start of the great rescue mission of our God. He sent this vulnerable baby to be born of a woman, with the express intent of finding the lost. We, who live on the other side of the resurrection, already know what this baby will become: The seeker, finder, rescuer Emmanuel. We also know that the parable is directed at us. This week we will remember that we too are called to be seekers. May God help us in this mission.

Merry Christmas to all,

Fr. Roman+  

1 Hendriksen, William. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids: (Baker Book House, 1978), 446.
2 Bailey, Kenneth E. Finding the Lost: Cultural Keys to Luke 15. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992), 104.
3 Hendriksen, Ibid, 748.
4 Bailey, Finding the Lost, 102.
5 Jeremias, Parables, 133. As quoted by Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 156. Bailey adds “there is no evidence for this and the culture neither suggests nor demands it.”
6 Wendland, Ibid, 39.
7 Bailey, Poet and Peasant, 157.
8 Beavis, Mary Ann. “Like Yeast that a Woman Took: Feminist Interpretations of the Parables.” Review and Expositor, 109. (Spring 2012): 222.
9 Hendriksen, Ibid, 748.
10 Collins Pratt, Lonni. “The Lost Coin.” Daughters of Sarah, (Winter 1992):16.

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