“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’” Luke 15.8-9.
This morning’s post has come about because, yesterday, I happened to pick up an old Bible from my bookshelves and, as I flicked through it looking for something else, I saw a note I had once scribbled in the margin next to these verses, It was a quotation from Selwyn Hughes and it so delighted me that I’ve been savouring it ever since. This little parable, he says, is about “the God who sweeps the universe with the broom of his redemptive grace until he finds the coin on which his image is stamped.” Isn’t that just lovely?
The lost coin was a drachma – probably part of the woman’s head-dress which, in those days, formed part of her dowry – but Selwyn Hughes is seeing it as a denarius – a coin which (like the one given to Jesus in Luke 8.24) bore the image of it’s ultimate owner – Caesar, the Roman Emperor.
Just like that coin, lost in the darkness of the woman’s room, human beings bearing the image of God himself are lost in the darkness of this world. The image of God that they bear may be bright or it may be faint – almost obliterated by a life lived in denial of, or even opposition to, God. But the image remains there and it marks the coin as God’s and as something which he is not prepared either to write off or to abandon.
So he lights a lamp and sweeps the room. The woman would have lit a tiny oil lamp to shed a few rays of light in the gloom of her windowless dwelling and she would have swept with a palm twig, hoping she would hear the tinkle of the coin on the stone floor as the twig made contact with it. Then she would be able to follow the sound with the light and retrieve the coin. But God sweeps by his Spirit and illuminates the darkness with Jesus who is the Light of the world (John 16.8) and with his followers who are, in some measure, the light of the world too (Matthew 5.14).
The light reveals both the seeker and that which is sought. Just as the little oil lamp would show to the coin the anxious, tear-stained face of the woman who was so desperately seeking it, so the Light of the world reveals to lost sons and daughters the longing, love-torn face of the Father. The Spirit is his redemptive grace – his empowering presence – that brings the dead to life and restores those lost sons and daughters to the embrace of the Father’s arms.
How many of us do not look at family members, at friends, at work colleagues and neighbours – all of whom seem utterly resistant to the Gospel – and think: “It is never going to happen. They will never be brought back to God?” Well let’s ask ourselves: “Do they bear his image?” Yes. Then they are his and he will search until he finds them and brings them to himself, either in this world or the next. How can it be otherwise? He takes responsibility for them. He will not abandon them or write them off. The whole point of this parables and the parable of the lost sheep that precedes it is surely that by the end of the day, no sheep remains lost and no coin remains unrecovered.
If the tens of thousands of folk who have departed this life “unsaved” despite being loved and prayed for (to say nothing of those tens of thousands who have departed it un-loved and un-prayed for) are lost forever, we have no option but to conclude that Jesus got it wrong. The woman in the parable will, in fact, abandon the coin if she finds it has rolled off into the corner of the room called death. Somehow, if she hears it go beyond that crack in the floor, she will have no further interest in it! The shepherd will give up on the lost sheep the moment he realises it has wandered into the valley of the same name. Astonishingly, the sheep he was supposed to love beyond all measure just a moment ago can now suddenly be left as breakfast for the jackals. We would have to say that God is a seeking and saving God, yes – but only to a point. We would have to conclude that there is a limit to his love and his redemptive grace – that he can and does switch it off once someone has breathed their last.
Is that the God you believe in? I truly hope not. For, so far as I can see, he is not the God that is revealed to us in either the words or works of Jesus. He is certainly not the God of the parable of the lost coin.