Kenneth Bailey suggests that the “Lost Coin” parable (Luke 15:8-10) is actually a retelling of the “Lost Sheep” parable with some important nuances.
8 Or what woman having ten silver coins [drachmas], if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
The first and most striking thing about this parable is its main character; a woman! Remember that these parables are being directed at the Pharisees and scribes. A speaker in Middle Eastern culture can not compare a male audience to a woman without giving offense. Jesus does it nonetheless.
Bailey notes that Luke, more so than the other gospels, records of a number of doublets or parallels that involve men and women. For example:
- An angel speaks to Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1. (They each also offer a song.)
- Simeon and Anna receive Jesus in the temple in 2:25-38.
- Zarephath and Naaman are given as two examples of healing miracles in 4:24-27.
- City built on a hill (men’s work) and lighting a lamp (women’s work) in 5:14-15.
- Examples of mending a garment (women’s work) and making wine (men’s work) in 5:36-39.
- Divisions in the house will be male and female divisions in 12:52.
- On the day of the Son of Man, there will be two men in bed and two women grinding in 17:34-35.
- One man and one woman offer aid to Jesus on the way to the cross in 23:26-27.
Bailey says that Jesus was rare, if not unique, in this regard. This focus was almost certainly done with the intent of elevating the status of women but it also had theological significance. The compassionate father running to kiss his son is something a woman would be expected to do and Jesus ascribes this to God. Male and female traits are reflections of God yet ascribing sexuality to God, as the pagan fertility cults did, was carefully avoided.
The story indicates that the woman had ten coins called drachmas. A drachma was about one day’s wages. The fact that she had these coins meant she was trusted by her husband. Jesus says she lost one of the coins and if you will remember from the parable of the Lost Sheep, Middle Easterners do not take direct blame for such an act. The might say ‘the coin is lost” but they would not “I lost the coin.” Jesus emphasizes that this women has indeed lost the coin and she takes responsibility for having done so.
Bailey suggests that this parable was probably told with the idea of Galilean villages in mind. The homes were made with basalt slabs. The rooms were about seven feet high with six inch slits near the top for windows. The floors were stones pieced together, with numerous cracks where the stones met. In the parable, the woman must light a lamp in the dark room and painstakingly search for the coin.
Her trustworthiness is on the line. She was entrusted with the money and is responisble for it. She knows the coin is in the house. If she looks hard enough she knows the coin can indeed be found.
9 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.'
The woman finds the coin and invites the neighbors to a celebration. Interestingly, no one would know that she had lost the coin if she did not through the celebration. She also unabashedly admits that she lost the coin. Having found the coin she has proven her faithfulness and it is her success that she wants to celebrate. (I should note here that this would be all women, just as the lost sheep celebration would be all men.) Furthermore, upon her invititation, who would have been critical of her for having searched out the coin until she found it?
Bailey also points out another important nuance. The coin was of no less value when it was lost than when it was found. This is in contrast to the lost sheep and the prodigal son who may have returned diminished. Does this say something about our value to God?
10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Jesus makes clear in these parables that he is talking about repentance. So what did the coin do to earn restoration? Nothing! The coin was restored because one who valued it searched with great difficulty to find it. So when verse 10 says there will be much joy “over one sinner who repents,” who is the celebration ultimately about?