Jesus told a brief story about a woman's determined search for what she had lost. While picturing God's desire to reclaim lost human beings, it also shows that we should share that desire - putting high value on relationships.
The woman in Jesus' parable was overjoyed when she found her lost coin.
Through the physician Luke, God relates many stories and parables about people who are neglected, forgotten, ignored or lost. Luke writes about women, beggars, lost sons and widows with a touch that betrays his own compassion and empathy for common people. Luke was drawn to this side of Jesus Christ's ministry and was used by God to record a unique perspective.
People were important to Luke, people are valuable to Christ, and people should be important to us too. Here is a story that brings that out.
Setting the scene
Picture a woman living in a small house, one of several on a crowded village street. A kindly lady, she gets by on very little. Her days consist in sewing and knitting, reading, cooking and conversation with others. Though lacking in money, she does have some—ten silver coins that are of great value to her. But one day she discovers that one is gone.
Christ presented this scenario in two brief verses: "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke:15:8-10).
Focusing in on the coins here, some have argued that they would have hung on a veil or around a woman's neck as part of jewelry or a dowry to be her living if her husband died. This would add to the importance of these coins to her, but there is no direct evidence that this was the case. The monetary consideration is significant enough.
According to the original Greek, the coins here were drachmas, each equivalent to a Roman denarius, which represented about a day's wages. So let's say that in today's money she had $1,000 and now found $100 missing.
Moreover, an expert on ancient Middle Eastern lifestyle says that coin money was not common among such peasants: "The peasant village is, to a large extent, self-supporting, making its own cloth and growing its own food. Cash is a rare commodity. Hence the lost coin is of far greater value in a peasant home than the day's labor it represents monetarily" (Kenneth Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, 1983, p. 157).
In any case, we can see that a missing coin among 10 would be a terrible loss for her.
A determined search
We can imagine the heart of this woman skipping a beat and her gasping with shock when she learns the coin is missing. Has she mislaid it or dropped it? Has someone taken it? This was enough to send a person into a panic. Where could it be?
A typical house of that time had a few small slits for windows or no windows at all, so that there was little light. To search for the lost coin requires more light. Oil for a lamp is not cheap, however, and she normally saves it for the night. But she must find that coin.
The search is on. Out comes her broom, and carefully she begins a systematic and thorough search. Across the packed-earth floor and under mats and pottery vessels she searches. Nothing shows up. Again she goes back over the same area but from a different angle, the light from the lamp casting different shadows this time.
Just as she is about to end the second sweep without any success she sees a small glimmer. There it is! The coin is found! Quickly she picks it up and blows away the dust. Yes, she exclaims: "There you are! I thought you were gone, never to be found!"
She rushes out of her house calling to her neighbors: "Come, rejoice and celebrate with me! The coin I lost has been found!" You can imagine the shared joy of her friends—thankful that she's no longer at wit's end and that she still has all her valuable coins. Inner calm returns. Life is once again normal and peaceful.
Relationships and the need for restoration
It's a simple, straightforward situation presented in three verses. What is there for us to learn?
All three parables in Luke 15 concern the restoration of lost relationships—ultimately God seeking out human beings who were lost to Him and bringing them back into a loving relationship with Him. That is certainly the point here—and all must realize their need to be found by Him. But we should also recognize that God desires us to be like Him in seeing the importance of relationships with other people and striving to reconcile and restore fellowship with them.
As I think about a woman of meager means in a small home and the matter of lost relationships, I'm reminded of a lady I once knew.
In the years I worked in pastoral ministry I met many different types of people. One day I received a letter from a widow—I remember her name as Sadie—who wanted me to visit her and talk about the truths she was coming to learn from the Bible about God and the calling He was offering her.
I found her living in a small shack of a house, what was once factory housing in a North Carolina mill town, long since abandoned and neglected. She barely had running water, little food and few possessions. What she had found was a new and better understanding of God. For the first time in her life, her mind was being opened to understand the deep truths of who and what God is and what His purpose for her life was all about.
Sadie was what we would call a God-fearer, a seeker. She had been religious all her life. She believed in God and read her Bible. But something was missing. She was never completely satisfied with what she had heard, and the faith of her youth left an unresolved promise in her life. She was like many today who know something is missing from their religion and continue to seek for a deeper meaning to their life and richer relationship with God.
Widowhood had not been kind to Sadie. Her family had abandoned her. I never really knew how she came to be in that small, dark shack of a house where I found her. Sadie was down to her last "coin" in life, and it was not like she expected to find the other nine.
But the one "coin" she did find in that dark house—the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God—she was holding on to with all she had. That one coin shone brightly and began to warm her. She welcomed me into her home and we welcomed her into ours.
Sadie found a home in the Church of God. One of the first things I did was find her an apartment that was closer to town, in a nice area and near a grocery store—and that had a full bath and running hot and cold water! She now had a clean, bright and warm physical home as well as a safe and welcoming spiritual home where she could worship each Sabbath with her new family.
Seeking the lost—and being found
God says He will care for the widow: "The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; but the way of the wicked He turns upside down" (Psalm:146:9). I have seen this to be true countless times in so many circumstances through the years. As I learned with Sadie, God will even search out a widow and bring help to her. To God a widow can be one of those "lost coins" that He goes after with the oil lamp lit and broom sweeping back and forth till He finds her and brings her into contact with someone to carry her forward.
Even though God has nine of the ten coins, He wants all of them. This parable encourages us in God's singular devotion to caring for mankind enough to go searching for the lost. Christ spent time with those who needed His presence and teaching to deal with and overcome sin. As He stated: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance" (Mark:2:17).
In God's great plan He will gather all the lost outcasts and join them to the larger spiritual body He is building—the Church in all its spiritual glory. Sadie was one example of God's care and concern for us.
Sadie learned this lesson of God's desire for restoring others in relationship with Him, and I can relate something she did that makes me think she took this way of thinking to heart herself. Of all the children Sadie had, there was one daughter she had lost contact with many years earlier. The girl simply disappeared from her life and had made no contact with her or any other family member. But Sadie had hope she was alive somewhere.
Sadie knew she herself had been "found" by her spiritual Father. So she set out to find her physical daughter. She began advertising through classified ads in selected newspapers. I discovered what she was doing when I saw her notice posted in our inter-nationally published church newspaper.
I never knew if Sadie found any trace of her daughter. I assume she did not. It was soon after this that I was transferred to another pastorate, and in time I lost contact with her. Sadie likely lived out her years knowing that one day she would find that "lost coin," her daughter, in a better time and place—when the world is ruled by the Kingdom of God. Then she will be able to share with her child the same truth she herself found.
The message of the Kingdom of God requires repentance—changing and turning around a life—to obedience and worship of God in spirit and truth, trusting in His promises of life to come. Christ came preaching this challenge to "repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark:1:15). That challenge is clearly before you in this parable of the lost coin. God will search for you until He finds you. He is unrelenting.
The challenge is before you today. The question is, will you be found?