“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What to do with this educator’s commentary

This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’

This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.

Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.

In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.

Structure of the commentary:

The world behind the text

The world of the author’s community

The world at the time of the text

Geography of the text

Questions for the teacher

The world of the text

Text & textual features

Characters & setting

Ideas / phrases / concepts

Questions for the teacher

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher

Meaning for today / challenges

Church interpretations & usage

The World Behind the Text

See General Introduction to Luke.

The world of the text

Text & textual features

This story that celebrates Divine love in creation comes to us in the form of a parable. It needs to be understood in its wider context including the two other lost parables stories that sit either side of it: the Lost Sheep (Lk 15: 4-7) which precedes it and The Lost Son (Lk 15: 11-32) which follows it. The Lukan author deliberately forms a package of texts that explore the core themes of being lost and the utter joy that emerges from being found. These three interconnected stories respond to the first two verses of Luke 15 where some scribes complain that Jesus is spending time with outcasts: namely tax collectors and sinners. All three parables answer their complaints, leaving us with an image of God as an all forgiving being who loves unconditionally and without the kind of judgement that the scribes themselves are giving. 

At the beginning of this literary triptych (story in three parts) is an important mention of the people Jesus is addressing. The placement of the event in Luke 15, means that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, so the presence of grumbling Pharisees and scribes highlights the growing tension. Their complaining contrasts with the actions of the tax collectors and sinners who are willing to listen to Jesus’ wisdom that comes from his teaching. The contrast of grumbling and listening draws the reader back to Lk 5: 27-29 where Jesus again is rebuked for eating with those considered outside table hospitality. The openness of those guests usually unwelcome, is in stark contrast to the closed hearts and minds of the learned ones who hold positions of authority in Jesus’ world. In making a radical choice to eat with those normally not welcome at table Jesus indicates the inclusive nature of the kingdom and establishes Luke’s Jesus as one who finds himself in situations that turn all things on their head as a result of God’s unconditional love. 

Characters & setting

Luke 15: 1-2, 9-10 mimics the utter exaggeration present in the story of The Lost Sheep. The Lukan author employs this literary technique to emphasise the immensity of the love God offers the cosmos. As in the preceding text, there is only one character who becomes the vehicle for message making in this instance. 

This text opens with a question that is then answered through the form of a parable. Our main character is an ordinary woman who finds herself in an everyday household setting. 

Increasing the loss from the one hundred sheep, this woman loses one coin out of only ten in her possession. The text says ‘if she lost one’. It is noted that the coin is a drachma. This silver coin would have been equivalent to a denarius and an average day’s wage. This was the standard coinage available in the ancient Greek world. The term for ‘handful’ comes from the same derivative as the term drachma in Ancient Greek. What she could have done with her coin is debated; some suggest it is her dowry, without which she may not be able to marry. 

Typically, the woman’s house would have had no windows, hence her need to light a lamp to find the lost coin. An emphasis is placed upon the tools required to help her find what she has lost. These include a lamp and the actions of sweeping and searching.  Her find does not come instantly or without effort. The woman’s resilience and determination to turn her situation around is obvious at this point in the text. 

Like the finding of the Lost Sheep, the eventual find results in joy. The joy is abundant and excessive: it is a joy greater than the individual as it emanates from one’s relationship with God. It is a certain joy that finds its home in God’s Divine presence. Emerging from this spiritual joy filled state is the woman’s desire to create a community of friends and neighbors who seemingly celebrate with her. 

Scholars note that the Lukan author includes more references to women than any other Gospel writer, however there is debate about how active they are in the ministry of Jesus. In this instance, a woman’s actions speak about God’s love and the energy it exudes into every crevice of our world. The feminine face of God, celebrated in the context of one woman’s lived experience, is clear, yet we speak of God happily as shepherd and father but not woman. In this lesser known text we can be challenged to acknowledge the feminine energy of the Divine. 

Ideas/ phrases/ concepts

This seemingly short parable found in the middle of Luke’s Gospel is rich in symbolism, concepts and ideas that form a foundation for our own reflection today. By their nature, parables draw us in to a place of spiritual contemplation and personal discovery that can actually transform our lives and better the world in which we live. Whoever reads this text will notice something unique that is important to them, something that connects to their current lived experience. 

The key concepts that stand out include perseverance, transformation, journeying with God, acceptance and forgiveness, being lost and found and knowing joy that is of a Divine orientation. All of these concepts are equally explored in the story of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Son.

Questions for the teacher:

What is the text saying? What am I wondering about the text?
How can you enable your students to engage with the actual text? What might they wonder about?
What of this information is important to share with the students?

The world in front of the text

Questions for the teacher:

Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.

How do you respond to the text?
What does the text tell us about the world that God desires? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you and asking us to do?
In what ways do you hope your students will respond to the text? What do you want them to know, believe and do?

Meaning for today/ challenges

At one level, this is a nice little text with a happy ending yet at a deeper level we discover a very rich complexity of concepts and ideas that have the capacity to change our lives, the world in which we live and all of creation that calls planet earth home. The key themes just mentioned seem to hang together through the notion of trust. This appears to be the undergirding foundation of this powerful text that reflects the feminine face of God. 

Each of us will find our own meaning in this text as we sit and contemplate its wisdom. At the heart of it is the foundational concept that all are valued. This text invites us to believe that all individuals are born into the world with an intrinsic sense of value that is Divinely inspired. Essentially, this text reminds us to value all and hold onto the belief that such value emanates from God’s loving embrace of all. In this way, God’s love stretches into the whole of the universe, including pockets of fracture, sin and darkness. 

The Christian message was never meant to be just about us and God. As a result of recent scientific discoveries and increased knowledge about the universe we are now challenged to perceive ourselves as co-creators in a Divine reality that brings joy to all who participate with the whole as their goal ahead of individualistic self-gain and personal achievement. The greatest challenge that this text provides for us today is to love ourselves as much as God does so that we can form future oriented communities that celebrate inter-relationality, mystery and wonder. From an ecological perspective, we are challenged to find a new way forward that is as radical as taking time to find a lost coin or a stray sheep. This is our big chance for a spiritual conversion that is driven by a desire to honour God’s creation and to know that humanity is but a tiny fragment of a whole system defined by biodiversity, beauty and a sense of stewardship that values all. Let us listen with intent and openness to Christ as did the tax collectors and sinners. Let us offer hospitality to the most unlikely individuals in creation as Christ did.

Liturgical usage

This Gospel passage is read during Year C of the Liturgical cycle 24th Sunday in ordinary time. The readings are as follows:

1st Reading     Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

Responsorial Psalm    Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

2nd Reading    1 Timothy 1:12-17

Alleluia           2 Corinthians 5:19

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 Or Luke 15:1-10