Luke 15:4-10: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin (drachma), does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
How many of us haven’t lost something valuable? I am a hiker / backpacker, and on a recent trip I lost a valuable tool (worth about $125), I went nuts trying to find out where the transportation company had lost it. In the end it was never found and I had to replace it, even so I was so happy to have it back that I let everyone know that I had my trusty tool back again. It’s value was far beyond the monetary worth, as I use it almost daily both while backpacking and at home. What have you lost and were elated to have it back again?
Let’s look into the prices of some common items, and we will use the coin the woman lost for easy comparison (and to see just why it was she was so excited to find it). The coin was a silver drachma, which was more valuable than the denarius communiae (d.c.), or common coin of the Roman Empire. The d.c. could be exchanged throughout the realm for local or other currencies by a simple exchange amount, similar to what we see today when traveling to other countries. The exchange rate at the time was about 1-1/3 denarius for a drachma.
Sheep were immensely valuable in ancient Israel. Along with food, they provided wool for clothing, bones were used for knife and tool handles, and an unblemished lamb was offered for the remission of sin. At the time a single lamb would be worth about 19 drachma, or about 3 pounds per drachma. A skilled laborer (carpenter, mason) would earn about 2 drachma per day, an unskilled laborer (field help) would earn about 1/2 drachma per day. So, we are looking at the loss of a little over a month’s wages for the average laborer. With this little bit of understanding you can feel the joy of the man who finds his lost sheep, worth in today’s terms about $2,155 USD (based on minimum wage, 40 hour week, for a month). You bet he was excited. Yet, his joy is nothing in comparison to the salvation of one sinner.
Consider the woman as well, while not the financial coup of our shepherd, she is excited as well when she finds her lost coin. Again, consider the value of that coin. We think today of the relative worthlessness of coins, as our most valuable money is in the form of paper currency. This is a woman who’s husband was probably, as most were at the time, an unskilled laborer making about 1/2 drachma per day. Here she loses an entire drachma! Again, the modern equivalent would be in the range of $120 USD – that’s a lot of money in anyone’s terms. So, what did one drachma buy her (again to get a feel)? One of the following:
- 2-1/4 lbs of flour
- 25 lbs of grapes
- 2-1/3 lbs of chicken
- 1 lb of salted fish
- 2 lbs of fresh fish
- or, 8 pints of beer!
Imagine two pounds of fish costing you an entire day’s wages, and she lost twice that amount.
Jesus was making a point here, without getting all tangled up in the monetary values, that nothing is worth as much to God as one of his children returning. This theme will be played out in parables and accounts throughout the New Testament, but few say it better than the words of one of Christianity’s most popular songs, Amazing Grace: How precious did that Grace appear…the hour I first believed. How precious indeed to know that no matter what we have done the Heaven’s will rejoice upon our return.