As the Pharisees grumbled about the fact that Jesus shared meals with “taxcollectors and sinners,” Luke records in chapter 15 three parables that Jesus told, linked together by the common theme of “the lost being found.” If you’ve hung out in church, in all likelihood you are familiar with the first of these parables: the story of the shepherd seeking out the one lost sheep. You probably are even more familiar with the third: the father with the two sons. You may be less familiar with the second parable:
“Or 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.’”
In the other two parables we readily assume that Jesus is saying that God is like the good shepherd and the father welcoming home the lost son. Could God be like a woman carefully searching her house for a lost coin?
The words we use for God are always inadequate to express the divine mystery, which is part of the reason Jesus used parables to talk about what God is like rather than what God is. The images that Jesus chose broke with traditional expectations. For instance, from a practical standpoint, the shepherd would be better off to simply cut his losses; spending all his time searching for the wayward sheep isn’t cost productive. And the father, having been treated by his son so disrespectfully, would be expected — at the very least — to demand that the wayward son earn his place back into his good graces.
There is something similarly unexpected going on with the image of the woman. First off, the primary function of women in those days was to have children. There is no reference to a maternal role with the woman in Jesus’ parable; she exists apart from the mother role. And second, she is associated with money – silver coins — which would have been more commonly considered the domain of men going about the business of the world, where money represents power. Specifically, the woman in Jesus’ parable is determined not to lose a single one of her coins – the power representation.
In the context of Pharisees who are quick to condemn the “sinners” who haven’t followed their religious conventions, Jesus presents three unconventional figures who are each determined in their own distinctive way to recover the lost, and are quick to rejoice when the lost is found.
Save us, O God, from an unwillingness to embrace the surprising ways you would come among us. Save us from our inner Pharisee; open us to the joy of Jesus that never stops searching for the lost. In Jesus name. Amen.