A reflection for the 16 days of Activism Against Gender Violence by Susan Durber, our Theology Adviser.
A parable of Jesus: Luke 15:8-10
What woman, having ten drachmas, if she loses one drachma, doesn’t light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And finding it, she calls her female friends and women neighbours saying ‘Celebrate with me, for I found the drachma which I lost’. I say to you, such joy there is among the angels of God over one sinner repenting.
This is such a little parable. And so much is hidden in a few, short, words.
The woman in this story has a husband (she is not described as a widow). She lives in a culture in which women do not, usually, leave the home and in which married women do not own property of their own. The drachmas belong to her husband. He gave them to her and she must account for them. The husband will most likely return and ask her what she has spent the money on or what money she has left. If she has lost some of the money, he may not simply laugh indulgently at her carelessness. He might be very angry.
This woman lives her life in the house and she is always sweeping. This task is hers and it is a constantly repeated one. The dust drives its way into her house as every wind blows and is her constant enemy. She sweeps and sweeps again. When a coin is lost, she sweeps once more, being careful not to sweep the coin in to a crack in the earth floor or into a corner where the lizards wait to trap flies.
She is nervous and worried. What if she doesn’t find it? What if she must tell her husband when he returns that a drachma is missing? How will he react?
The money is for food, for fuel, for the essential things of the house. If some is missing it is she who will not eat, she who will lay down at night on the earth floor and try to sleep with an empty stomach, and perhaps with angry bruises on her body.
But she finds it! What a relief. Most translations hide the reality that she calls on her women friends and neighbours – and not just ‘friends and neighbours’, though the Greek makes this clear.
The women are those with whom she shares her day and the mundane tasks of her life. They will understand the significance of this drachma and the possible cost of losing one. They are the ones who have covered their ears on other days when she has been punished for something lost. It is the women to whom she can dare admit what she had lost, and what she has, so joyfully, found.
Many commentators will say that Luke places this parable alongside the parable of the lost sheep, and that they are a pair. But the parable of the woman who lost a coin has a texture that its partner does not.
Behind this story lurks the threat of violence that so many women face, in contexts where they live only in the world of the home, at the mercy of others, and with the comfort and support not of the law, or of society, but only of women friends.
The good news of this parable is that Jesus compares the joy of the angels of God to the joy of this woman, and so lifts her to the dignity of being a mirror to the ways of God. She may be victimised, fearful and hurt, but she it is, and not the system which leaves her vulnerable to abuse, who reveals the love of God.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is described as speaking to a crowd of men. He says, before the parable of the lost sheep, ‘Which of you…’ whereas here he says, ‘What woman..?’
But how astonished the crowd of men must have been, that the kingdom of God could be found through the smaller, more curtailed, more dangerous, world of women – and that the joy of God could be described in the joy of a woman who had found a coin that she so deeply feared she had lost.