Gary’s Teaching this Month

“The parable of the lost coin.” You can read this and other blogs at Gary’s theology website, justinofnablus.wordpress.com

8 “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? 9 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!’ 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

 I lose things all the time: the other day it was my constant companion, my iPod…so I couldn’t listen to my Audible Book. So, I think, when did I last have it, and eventually I found it where I thought it might be. But I lose stuff so often, I can’t be bothered to get upset. My wife said: “It’ll turn up!” “Yeah, it’ll turn up.” And it did.

 The people in the parables of Luke 15 are not that blasé – they feel their loss.

 The running theme of the parables is, what: that something is lost? Not quite. Something is lost and is found? That’s better. Or to be more precise: something precious is lost and then found? Or best of all: something precious is lost, and is found and the finder is profoundly happy. 

Why does he speak of this here? Because of what we read in Luke 15:1-3 –

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So He spoke this parable to them, (he tells the parable of the lost sheep, and then two more parables).

That is: something precious is lost, and is found and the finder (God, and thus Jesus) is profoundly happy…but others who are looking on sulk. Here is Jesus, helping people come to God. And here are the religious leaders. They weren’t listening to Jesus in order to learn something, but to find things to criticize and to report back to the proper committee. 

They were working from different assumption concerning the question of what to do with sinners. The Pharisees said that good people should separate from them; God wants us to be a pure nation, so purge out the sinners, and emphasize precise obedience to kosher food laws and the Sabbath. In this view, Jesus is part of the problem. For his part, Jesus says, what do we do with sinners? Go after them, recover them, bring them to God! 

Is Jesus more tolerant of sin than the Pharisees? No, Jesus hates sin more than anyone present…no Pharisee is going to suffer and die on the cross for sin, but Jesus will…so he takes it very seriously indeed.

The stories show us that there are sins of “omission”, that is, not doing something that God says we should do. As the father say at the end of the Prodigal Son that “it’s right that we make merry and be glad”. That means that if you’re not rejoicing, you are the one who is disobeying God.

In the story of a woman who has ten coins, I’m convinced, along with many experts in the field, that we’re talking here not about coins in her purse, but a specific amount of money. A dowry. Jesus speaks of a “woman”, but from the look of her it’s a young woman who has not yet married. Girls married very young, so she would be about the age of a girl in Middle School. Back in the day, the parents or some friend or relative would set up a girl with a certain amount of money (or goods, or land), that she would take into the marriage. And the girl would wear the coins in a headpiece, like a necklace, around her forehead. You still see this in some Arab cultures today. So, to put it frankly, when a guy was checking out a girl, one of the things he checked out was her forehead to see, how much money does she bring to the table? If this seems gross, remember that this has been by far the most common system around the world, throughout human history – I’m not sure if it’s any worse than other methods which girls have traditionally used to get a boy’s attention.

We can tell a lot about her from the short parable: ten coins is not a lot of money. The NKJV has a footnote that says these are valuable silver coins, but that’s not quite right. They are the size of ten dimes. Rich girls might come with a whole farm; richer girls with…five cities! If this helps us: she has about enough to buy very basic groceries – enough to keep from starving – for a week. She and her family know serious poverty. Somehow they scraped together ten small coins for her dowry. And now, what was she doing, counting them? Looking at them? Anyway, she loses one. What a disaster!

You can imagine Jesus telling this story, and every girl in the crowd automatically reached up to touch her coins to make sure they were still there!

For us: if you lose your keys, you can get a copy made. Lose your wallet, and you cancel your credit cards and get your licensed replaced. It’s a nuisance, but you’ll get through it. For this girl, no: she felt like her whole life had collapsed.

So she went into panic mode… She puts everything on hold and looked and swept the floor to listen for it to tinkle. She lit a hand-held lamp to see if the coin would glitter.

And she found it and rejoiced. And in v. 10 Jesus says, “Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This is a Jewish style of expression: “joy in the presence of the angels of God” means that “God himself rejoices.”

But wait, the theologian in the crowd wants to say – God doesn’t lose things through carelessness. And for that matter, God is not a teenage girl. God doesn’t freak out, after all, so doesn’t the comparison break down? Well…neither does he have the emotions of a shepherd who loses a sheep. But because we are made in God’s image, it’s possible to get an idea of what God is like by watching people and saying that heaven is something like this.

Some people have the idea that God is some Cosmic Spirit or the Force, this kind of vague Mind that never gets upset and never gets happy, but just is. Actually, there is nothing in the Bible would give you that idea: instead we read – God is love; God is a God of anger. As we saw a few weeks ago, Jesus burst into tears at the tom of Lazarus – this wasn’t because of human weakness, it shows us how much God hates death.

So now here’s a thing that makes God really happy, and that is perfectly sound theology. Perhaps the theologians who were watching on were thinking, “Jesus, how do you know that this how heaven looks when a sinner repents?” The answer is simple: “Because I am from heaven, and this kind of rejoicing happens every day there!”

Sometimes when we study the parables we look through the background and the theology and on a technical level we can explain it. We can do all the steps, even explain the Greek text. But if we don’t feel it, then we’re not explaining the parable in the way Jesus taught it. Many of Jesus’ parables are meant to make you feel happy, or sad, or frightened, or relieved or anxious. Let’s see if we can capture the moment, if we can hear her voice down through the ages:

One, two, three, four….nine. Onetwothreefour…nine. Nine. Nine! Stupid girl, what have you done? I had ten, now there’s only nine. What possessed me to play with the coins? And now I have only nine. What kind of man could I attract with only nine? Ohhh…my mother is going to absolutely kill me!! What will I tell my parents?? For the rest of my life, the whole village will remember me as the silly girl who loses money. What kind of a fool will marry me if I can’t even hold onto for ten coins?

She doesn’t just look around, she’s hunting down on her knees, with a broom, with a lamp…and finally, what is that in the corner, there’s a little glint…and she reaches way in and feels a cold piece of metal, and fishes it out…and it’s the coin! And then she hugs it to her chest, and she hooks it back into the necklace.

And her relief is palpable – she runs out and tells her girlfriends and women neighbors. Now, who cares that they might laugh at her for being silly enough to lose it in the first place? She’s jumping up and down with happiness! And her friends had one job: to be glad with her and for her and jump up and down with her.

And for weeks she can’t wipe that grin off her face. How come this girl can’t stop smiling? I lost it and then I found it!!

And then Jesus turns to us and says, “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

In Jesus’ ministry, God was so happy that these people were coming back to him. Now if God rejoices at a thing, it’s a sin if we sulk. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to change direction, to rewrite how this chapter started so that it would be: “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes had huge grins and said, “Oh, boy! This man is going out and finding sinners and leading them back to God!! I’m so happy! What’s more, let’s all go out and find some sinners ourselves, this is wonderful!”

And today Jesus tells us this parable, to give us a chance to “repent”, to rewrite our story. As we close, let me suggest a few ways how:

  1. When people come to the Lord, they come in fresh from the world and don’t have a high level of spiritual “refinement”. You talk to a new believer, and you think, wow, you smoked a few in the parking lot before you came into church. He doesn’t know the right way to say things. He says “song” when he should say “hymn”. She swears some. But they love the Lord! What’s your reaction? The right approach is to think, “Hey, you’ve got a ways to go, I’ve got a ways to go, for goodness sake” and saying, “How can I help you? Have you met so-and-so?” Or maybe, “Are people at work teasing you about getting religious? Oh, I get that too, we all do! Here’s what I say, maybe it’ll work for you…!”
  2. I’ll leave this a rhetorical question: what reflects God’s love better: to go out to dinner after church with a Christian couple you’ve known for years; or to invite a non-Christian to lunch. You don’t have to preach – in fact, don’t preach! – but tell a little bit about what God means to you.
  3. You might have opportunities to share the gospel. But Christians who really share God’s happiness at seeing people repent will probably not wait around for an opportunity, they will pray and create opportunities. Of course, God all opportunities to share your faith come from God, but have you prayed to ask him to lead you to someone?
  4. The other day I visited a church. I was struck that a good five people crossed the room to speak with me, and they didn’t recognize me as I a missionary of the church, they just wanted to introduce themselves and make me feel at home. When I gave my little talk to the church, I congratulated them and said, “I was imagining, okay, if I weren’t a Christian and I came in to see what was up, how would I have felt? Very good!”
  5. And finally: When God talks about us sharing the faith, sometimes he commands us: “Go and make disciples of all nations…” Now,  word it that way and it’s an order. But sometimes he gives us a story and says you know what would really make me happy…?” If you love the Father, you’ll be on your feet immediately and you’ll say, “what, what?” and then you’ll go and “do”.
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