Parables of the Lost, Part Two

The Lost Coin, Luke 15:8—10

Parable_of_the_Lost_Coin

The beauty of Luke 15 is that in three simple stories—this one being the second and simplest—Jesus illustrates one of the most profound attributes of God the Father:  His amazing grace.  In the first parable, the parable of the lost sheep, we learned to what extent the shepherd would go to in order to find and bring a lost sheep back into the fold.  These three stories were told in response to a comment made by some religious leaders, who slighted some in the crowd listening to Jesus teaching.   These “righteous” and orthodox religious-types were shown to be not nearly as kind as God; they would have written off the tax collectors and undesirables in the crowd as being beyond help, as being so sinful as to be beyond the pale.  But not God; God in fact loves people who stray away from His fold just as much as He loves those who never stray, and there is great  joy in His heart when the lost one is found and comes home.

In the first parable, then, we see the love that compels God to search for the lost sheep.  In the second parable, we move from the pastoral landscape of shepherding to the peasant life.

1.  The coin, verse 8

Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one…

The message of this second parable is similar to that of the first one, except that we are introduced to different aspects of how God seeks that which is lost.

The silver coin Jesus mentioned amounted to roughly a day’s wages for a common laborer.  It was not uncommon for women to wear these coins on a chain around her neck if she did not have some kind of change purse.  If she was really poor, she probably did not even have money enough to buy a change purse!  These 10 coins represented over a week’s wages; likely all the money she had.  Perhaps the chain broke or the knot came untied and all the coins fell from her neck and onto the dirt floor of small home.  Being poor, she probably had no windows or small windows and no light except for a borrowed lamp, or when the door was open.  We can picture her stooping over, looking under tables and chairs, sweeping every nook and cranny in search of her coins.  She found 9 of them, but for some reason, she one eluded her.

What will she do?  She needs every coin to pay rent, buy food, or whatever.  Can you imagine how heartbroken she must have felt when she found all but one?  Have you ever lost your wallet?  Or lost some money?  Do you remember how you felt?  How you tore your house apart looking for it?

2.  Lighting the lamp and sweeping, verse 8

Does she not light a lamp…

Because her small one or two room typical Palestinian dwelling had limited exposure to outside light, she would have needed light.  Somewhere she found a lamp, perhaps it was hers or perhaps it was borrowed, and she lighted it.   It would have been the obvious thing to do; we would do exactly the same thing if we lost something precious to us.  Of course, we would run and get a flashlight and look in every single dark corner of the room in which we think we had lost our article.  Like the searching for the lost sheep was the obvious thing to do, so lighting a lamp would have been the normal thing for this woman to do.

…sweep the house…

In addition to more light, the desperate woman would next be expected to grab a broom so she could gently sweep behind and under and around the furniture, just in case the lost coin rolled under there.  Again, the way Jesus taught this, using the broom would have been the obvious and natural thing to do when looking for this lost coin.

3.  A determined search, verse 8b

…search carefully until she finds it?

Just like the determination of the shepherd, this woman will search and search and search and she won’t give up until finds and retrieves the lost coin.  This woman won’t be deterred from finding that coin; she will search for it as if her life depended on it.  Once again, we should note the beginning of the sentence which this phrase ends:

Does she not…

In other words, the things this woman does in search for her lost coin—

  • Lighting a lamp;
  • Sweeping the house;
  • Not giving up.

–are all things that a normal person would do.  These three things would be in keeping the normative behavior of a human being; not one thing this woman did was out of character for a human being.

4.  The desired result, verse 9

And when she finds it…

There was never a doubt in this woman’s mind that she would find the lost coin.  The phrase is matter-of-fact:  she set out to find the coin, and “when she finds it” indicates that her goal was reached.   This woman did not get lucky in finding the coin and she did not “stumble upon it,” she began as she ended:  knowing she would eventually find the lost coin.

…she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

Once again, our eyes are drawn back to the phrase of verse 8—

Does she not…

Calling her friends and neighbors together would be considered the normal thing for her to do.  And why not; this woman would have been thrilled about finding the coin and, like most of us; sharing good news with others makes the good news even better.  However, the thing that should be noted is this:  it is implied that her friends and neighbors knew she had lost the coin.  How did they know this?  Obviously she told them.  Perhaps she told them in desperation or perhaps she told them so that they could pray for her as she set about to find the coin.  Or maybe they saw the fevered activity around her small home and came to look and to make sure she was all right.

5.  Jesus’ interpretation, verse 10

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Is Jesus teaching that angels rejoice when a sinner repents?  The Bible clearly teaches that angels are deeply interested in man and his salvation—

It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.  (1 Peter 1:12)

In fact, angels probably know far more about our salvation and the plans of God because they continually dwell in His presence.  No wonder they rejoice so much!

However, that is not the main point of this short parable.  The main point of this parable is that almighty God, who lives in the presence of the angels, actively seeks the lost and rejoices when as few as one repents.   That being the case, should we not have the exact same attitude?  It is part of God’s character to do everything within His power—as the woman did—to track down the lost person and find them.  Do we do that?  Or do we treat backsliders the way those self-righteous religious leaders treated the tax collectors?  Do we consider them lost for good?  Have we simply given up on them?  God gives up on no one.  Do we exhaust our resources in seeking the sinner?   Jesus’ point, because He really is addressing the Pharisees, is that they—the orthodox religious leaders—should be as concerned about backsliders and sinners as God is and that they should do everything in their power to help them.

Neither the sheep nor the coin is actively looking to be found; the initiative is on the One doing the searching:  the shepherd and the woman.  Someone once wrote these beautiful words:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew, He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me; It was not I that found, O Savior true, No, I was found, was found of Thee.

Ancillary interpretations of the parable:  Rightly dividing the word

Jesus’ very simple interpretation of the story He Himself made up and told has not stopped Bible scholars from coming up with other interpretations and applications.

The most interesting one I have read is that, by the process of elimination, the woman in the story represents the Holy Spirit.  Proponents of this interpretation believe that the each of the three parables shows a member of the Trinity in action:  the shepherd represents Christ, the prodigal’s father represents God the Father, and therefore the woman has to represent the Holy Spirit.

The lamp represents the Gospel and the broom (yes, the broom!) represents the law.

While these ideas are interesting, it is better to stick to our Lord’s own assigned meaning to His own story.  It is doubtful that the woman represents the Holy Spirit for nowhere in Scripture is the third Person of the Trinity ever referred to as a woman, while Jesus is referred to as “the Good Shepherd” and God as our “Heavenly Father.”

(c)  2009 WitZend

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