“…a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'
In the 15th chapter of Luke this parable is sandwiched between the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the prodigal son. Jesus spoke quite a bit about the lost being found, with slightly different meanings that we can learn from each. In fact, this parable, as all of them, can be looked at from various perspectives.
Some beliefs hold that we who are in church today are part of the nine coins, and the ones that are not attending church are lost coins. From another perspective, some religions believe that their belief system is part of the nine coins, and anyone who doesn’t share their belief is part of the lost coin contingency.
What’s more, some religions hold that it is our responsibility to go out and sweep our communities in search of those lost coins. I am certain that a denomination or two have knocked on my door and gone away thinking, “Well, Patrick is like a couple coins short of a full purse.”
I always find it peculiar when someone starts taking someone else’s inventory, telling them they are short a coin or two, and on top of that they make it their responsibility to start sweeping their floor to find what it is they think is missing. We ought to be a bit careful when we're looking at people. God doesn't judge us till we're dead, so maybe we should be a little bit careful about judging others and deciding whether they have a coin missing.
That’s why I wanted to look at this picture for just a second. You can’t examine it closely, and that’s probably not so bad. It is an image of a stained-glass window example – Canterbury Cathedral, 1175-1500 AD. It’s a beautiful example of that art, but the nose is missing from center figure.
My theory is that all the other pieces of glass got together and decided that the little brown and black part of that nose should be outcast because it just wasn't the right shape. There was just something different about it. So, they all got together and they banned that little section of this pane. Now when you look at this, it doesn't look whole. It doesn't look complete. There is something missing right there.
Perhaps we have looked at ourselves and identified what we think are flaws, weaknesses, anomalies that set us apart – personality flaws, mental deficiencies, emotional struggles, physical liabilities, or spiritual limitations. We have decided that there is a part of us that is unworthy and undeserving, repugnant and unacceptable.
We believe we have lost a piece of us, either because we ignore it and reject it, or simply that we can no longer see it as part of us. Sometimes we can’t even explain why we feel diminished and dark; all we know is that we no longer feel complete.
That is the lesson I am speaking about today. It's about wholeness, and we can look at it on a social level: Blacks against whites, racial issues, homophobia, women not treated equally, and the entire spectrum of human rights and socioeconomic issues. We can look at it from a global perspective and do this with entire countries, ethnicities, cultures, and every sort of diversity. These are the sorts of things we look at and make quick shallow judgments. “They are less than whole or less than worthy, so we should cast them out. We should hide them, disparage them, and bury them.”
And when we do that, we end up with a picture that's incomplete. All of us are connected; all of us are included in God’s plan. Every one of us is part of the picture. We are all important whether we are just providing the shadow that serves as perspective and giving depth to a picture. We are all connected in this way.
But this parable is more personal; it is about us and our own lives. In the Bible, the number ten represents Divine completion and wholeness. God has handed out perfection, completeness, wholeness… a full purse of 10 coins. All those coins belonged to that woman, and this is a personal story…it is our story and applies to our personal lives and our own spiritual journeys.
We may start off with a full purse of 10 coins, but sometimes during our lives, we lose a coin or two. We may be told that we are not capable or qualified. Sometimes we are overlooked, ignored, rejected, disapproved of, abused, and unappreciated. When this happens, we can feel fractured, and we feel like a fragment of us needs to be covered up and hidden.
We spend billions of dollars on elective surgeries to augment our bodies: smoothing things out here, adding some more there. Wigs, hair plugs, spray on tans. We feel incomplete and substandard. But whose standards are we trying to live up to? The movies? Is it just me or have all the actors and actresses started kind of looking the same? I am so relieved when I see an actress with some meat on her bones and an actor that doesn’t have large biceps.
Sometimes we go through life as if we’ve lost all our coins except one – and that is the only coin that we allow people to see. “Look at me. Look how shiny I am.” And we conceal the other nine coins. We just get rid of them. We bury them. “God didn't give me 10 coins; He just gave me this one really shiny coin.” We feel anything but whole.
The idea of wholeness is an important one. We feel fractured when we forget a birthday, make an error, can’t find the lid to the juice we just opened, lose our keys. But when we find the keys again, we feel whole. It is funny how little it takes to feel whole, and it’s funny how little it takes not to feel whole.
Jesus spoke often about wholeness: “Your faith has made you whole;” “and as many as had touched him were made whole,” “Believe only, and she shall be made whole.” We are all connected in Spirit, but as long as we feel fragmented, we will not experience that oneness.
What Jesus was saying in this parable is that to experience wholeness we need to find every single one of those coins, every single part of our life, dig it up, and reclaim it so that we can be whole…and then we celebrate our wholeness with a big party.
Three important words for this personal intervention and the road to wholeness are: uncover, discover, and recover.
Upon learning that she had lost a coin, the first thing the woman does is light a lamp to uncover the coin. To find our way to wholeness it is then perhaps helpful to shed light on our lives, on our emotions, on our thinking, and attitudes. To light a lamp is to nurture the light of Spirit within us and let it shine onto our living areas of thought and belief. Our aim is to unearth these hidden parts of us, to uncover them.
The buried fragments of our hidden selves control our emotions, reactions, and perspectives. Those lost coins filter the way we see life and prevent us from experiencing the free flow of God’s expression. No matter how damaged and flawed we think they are, it is part of us. Let us make a commitment to find our lost coins and bring them into the Light. Let us not conceal them, but fully uncover them.
After lighting a lamp, the woman in the parable swept the house… carefully. She had to discover what was actually there. We are asked to examine and identify everything within our own lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly; the hidden feelings of hurt and pain, the anxieties and fears, the shame and unworthiness.
We sweep behind the furniture and drapes, between the cracks and crevices, under the carpets, our relationships, our reactions, and our unforgiven moments. We are looking at everything. It is an unpleasant, sometimes frightening, yet important task, and one that again requires commitment. It is why we go to therapists and confessionals and into prayer. We let the Christ light move through us onto what we find, accepting it without judgment, and embracing all that is there. Like it or not, it is part of us, and until we love and accept ourselves exactly as we are, we will never experience wholeness.
So, we have uncovered, discovered, and the last thing she did when she found the coin was that she called her friends and celebrated. We celebrate when we recover and embrace the lost parts of ourselves; when we accept ourselves and love ourselves as we are.
When we dare to confront, acknowledge, and bring forward the painful and ugly things in our lives, and accept them as part of ourselves, not judging them, not justifying them, not condoning them, but owning them, we can then feel completeness and we emanate God’s joy.
For God loves all parts of us: the loving and the unloving, the strong and the weak, the smooth and the rough, the ugly and the beautiful. We are human; therefore, we are flawed. Our nose may be missing. But we can be whole despite our experiences and blemishes. A mole to us is a beauty mark to God. When we walk around with a full purse, we radiate God’s Light, peace, and confidence. We only feel like letting our little light shine when we feel complete – not perfect to humankind, but perfect to God.
When we love ourselves in this manner, then we can love others. Clearly, the 1 John 4:19-21 instructs us to love each other in this way: We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
We can choose to see people as having a full purse, instead of missing a few coins. Differences and hatred vanish when we see others as complete and whole, even though the purse and coins that God has given them are different than our own. We do not judge or condemn, and then force ourselves into their house and start sweeping. We can help find lost coins only if we are invited, and then only lovingly and without criticism, and always with a celebration upon their recovery.
It is my prayer that we will commit to uncovering, discovering, and recovering our lost coins. Let us commit to shining the Light of God onto every area of our life and embracing every part of us, impartially and without judgment. I pray that we will look at each other with appreciation and nonjudgment, acknowledging our differences yet seeing every Child of God as complete and whole. Then may we celebrate with joy as we experience the perfection, completeness, and wholeness into which God made us, and giggle at the Divine jingling of full pockets and purses.