There is a part of this Jewish prayer that is thanking God that they are not women. If a household had no slaves, the women of the house were expected to do the demeaning task of washing the feet of guests before a meal. The temple of God was built to emphasize that Jewish men were closer to God than Jewish women. By the way, this is not God’s design. Solomon’s temple had one court. But man does what man does and twists God’s will to his own wants and impressions. Women in Jesus day, therefore, were used to being second class citizens, reduced to baby factories and cooks and housemaids. Boys were often taught to read so that they could read and understand Torah. Women were often illiterate. Why would they need to read? They were not allowed to discuss Torah in the synagogues. Produce babies and meals. You don’t need to read for that!
Luke 15:8-10 is the second parable in a series of three (maybe four) parables dealing with God’s seek and rescue mission. The message is pretty much the same as the parable of the lost sheep. There are some differences to be discussed. But what is most interesting; maybe even most important, is that Jesus takes the story into the world of women. Even though we have an example of a shepherdess in Rachel, it was not the norm. So, the first story would have been more about the world of men and it would have had some theological undercurrents, awakening fond thoughts of David; the shepherd king – and of Yahweh saying that he will be a shepherd to the people who had scattered because of the rotten shepherding practices of the priests.
But then Jesus enters into the world of women; the household. And when Jesus uttered, “Or what woman,” did the women in the audience all of a sudden perk up? Did they look at each other in surprise? They, and their world, were largely overlooked by rabbis; by men in general. I know, we have been here before in the gospel of Luke. And that is also significant. So, imagine that this woman has ten drachmas. A drachma was the average person’s wage for a day’s work. These ten drachmas most likely represent a savings; a squirreled away amount for emergencies, or for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or for a burial. We are not told, but it was not mad money. It was savings and losing one of ten would have been significant. Imagine losing a whole day’s pay; a whole day’s pay out of savings.
This woman loses one and immediately goes into search mode. At this juncture some will see a difference between the lost sheep and the lost coin, stating that the sheep was at fault while the coin cannot be faulted, blaming the woman of negligence. But you could equally blame the shepherd for negligence, couldn’t you? I think this misses the point. The loss is what is important. Just like the shepherd leaves to go search, the woman puts in effort to seek and find the coin. She lights a lamp, which is more involved than flipping a switch. The common house had few if any windows and a low door. Even in the middle of the day, light would have been needed for the search. The coin, not being a circle, would not have rolled far. But darkness and uneven dirt floor, maybe even thatching, would have necessitated a search. She does not say, “Well, I have nine drachmas. That is enough.”
When she finds the coin, she calls over her friends and neighbors. The words are feminine, which tells us that this is a gathering of all women. One man would have required a masculine plural word. It would be true that men did not mingle with women. But it is more than that. This is the people who would have understanding with her. They would be more likely to party with her. I think it is this, more than anything, that would lead her to go out and gather up these women.
Just like with the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus shifts to a scene in heaven; a scene of the angels of God rejoicing over one sinner who repents. One source keeps saying that the story is not about repentance, which is interesting since the first two stories end with repentance being the source of joy in heaven. I know that the emphasis is that God seeks and finds the lost; the sinners; the marginalized, but there is no finding without repentance. Jesus came to seek the lost. We can debate all day why or how they became lost; we can blame the shepherd or the sheep; the woman or the coin. But that is not the point. They are lost. And Jesus came to find, not beat the lost over the head for being lost. But are they truly found if they do not repent, I wonder? Here’s what I know. Being found is better than being lost. Grace.