Monday, November 9, 2015

Searching frenetically for our lost drachma

There is in Luke’s gospel a parable of Jesus, which is contained in only two verses, but with an impact that plumbs fathoms deep. It comes from the Luke 15:8-10 and it relates the story of how the woman who had 10 drachmas and realized that when she had lost one, made great efforts to retrieve it.  She lit a lamp (this could mean that she did this even into the dark of night) and swept the house to look for it.  When she finally found it that she was so overjoyed that she called her friends and neighbours to celebrate and rejoice with her this spectacular find. 

It is necessary for one to enter into the Hebraic mind to understand and appreciate the underlying truth that is being conveyed by Jesus’ teaching.  For the Jewish person, numbers play a pivotal role both in the social and religious life.  Some numbers convey wholeness and completeness.  The number 10 is one such number.  But when this wholeness was not experienced in the discovery that there were only 9 in her possession, it disturbed her and threw her off-centered. Somehow, this was a perturbation that left her unsettled and disarranged.  Was it the value of the coin that was lost?  Most certainly not, as a drachma was worth around the current day’s US$0.65.  How much trouble would one go to retrieve this amount when it can easily be written off without any skin off one’s nose?

Many of the parabolic teachings of Jesus reveal a hidden teaching and deeper truth.  So too in this case.  What was it that Jesus saw and encountered in life that made the segue into this teaching so appropriate and opportune?  We only need to look at the beginning of chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel to see the context.  Jesus’ audience were the Pharisees and scribes who had complained about Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them.  Interpreted broadly, it would be akin to saying that they took offence that Jesus actually paid any attention to these societal outcasts, especially if he truly was a prophet and a holy man of God. 

This is where the mercy of God is so clearly missing in the understanding of salvation and what it means to be a holy person.  From the very outset of salvation history, there was a need for a mending of something that was broken.  Once the fall of man and woman happened through sin, the wholeness that was Eden required a repairing.  Something that was once whole, perfect and beautiful was now ruptured, broken, fragmented and experienced disintegration. 

Every sin makes this rupture worse, and further splinters what is mean to be whole.  Jesus’ entry into the world was God’s amazing way to show not only that God meant business about restoring this brokenness, but more especially so the inconceivable lengths that he would go to ensure that this wholeness is restored and made right.  What were once two will now be again made one.  This was the way God’s at-one-ment (atonement) would be realized – in and through Jesus Christ.  And it would not be done through strength, not through power and might, and certainly not through a smiting of any kind.  Instead, it would be done through a very understated and under-appreciated way, blindsiding those to whom this ‘weapon of God’s choice’ is used on.  It was none other than the weapon of mercy.

That Jesus chose to use this parable of the lost drachma to teach this truth shows that mercy as God’s weapon of choice cannot be easily explained.  Mercy is far more a matter of the heart than it is of the head, and mercy is also far more effective when one’s heart is touched.  After all, wasn’t it Blaise Pascal who wrote so astutely that ‘the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing’? 

Every time a sinner breaks the community by his or her willfulness or stupidity (all sins are acts of stupidity, while some are more stupid than others) the integrity and strength of the community is compromised and fractured.  These are the 9 drachmas that not just the woman, but all of us have as well.  The 10 that was fullness and wholeness is now less than full, less than what it should be.  We should be as disturbed and perturbed as the woman.  That she was so eager to see the brokenness made whole by lighting a lamp and sweeping the house until she found it images God’s eagerness to restore wholeness.  Jesus’ entire being was to bring about a restoration of this wholeness.  He is the lamp that was lit, and his life was what swept all of creation (and continues to sweep creation) to find the lost. 

I think the problem with too many of us is that we are easily satisfied and perhaps a tad complacent.  We think we are happy with the 9, and it shows in the way that we are slow and sluggish to bring the good news of salvation to the lost.  There is no hunger for wholeness, and it even shows when we are not eager for wholeness in ourselves.  In the current toxic culture of relativism and secularism, especially when many chose to believe heavily in the dictum of ‘if it feels good, do it’, brokenness, being fragmented and experiencing a rupture seems to be the norm.  But let us never forget that we are made for wholeness and unity. 

In our Catholic faith, culture and tradition, the sacrament of reconciliation is a very real and tangible experience of this mending of brokenness – both in us as individuals, and to the community at large.  ‘Confession’ as it is sometimes called, is that restoring of the one lost coin, that finding of the one lost sheep.  It is the mending of what was in disrepair and the re-integration of what was dis-integrated.  I don’t think we as church celebrate this enough when we see a penitent emerging from the confessional room.  The woman who found that lost drachma did it in a profound, even over-the-top way in calling her neighbours to celebrate with her this seemingly miniscule find of nugatory value. 

What is our spiritual life’s task but to re-appreciate over and over again that in Jesus, God broke himself to mend our broken body.  But in God’s eyes, the celebration of the restoration of one sinner and the winning back of one heart is never over-the-top.  What makes it all possible was what happened at the top of Mount Calvary, where in Jesus, God gave of his very best.  The result should be that we too, could dare to give of our very best. 


  1. Thank you, Fr. Luke for the timely reminder.

    I really believe that there is not enough emphasis (from priests) these days on the importance of regular 'confession.'

    God's abundant Mercy and Grace is available to every sinner (..and that includes us ALL), and yet: many of us limit ourselves to the 'penitential service' that is held just before Christmas and/or Easter.

    Through the action of the priest, we who have sinned are brought back into God's loving embrace. What could be more wonder-full than that?

  2. Dear father Luke- the great love of God for his children spoke to me from your sharing . That Jesus would use the parable of the lost drachma to show how God searches high and low for his lost children speaks volumes of how much God treasures us and personally waits for the return of his sinful children. Thank You, almighty and merciful Father

  3. “That she was so eager to see the brokenness made whole by lighting a lamp and sweeping the house until she found it, images God’s eagerness to restore wholeness. Jesus’ entire being was to bring about a restoration of this wholeness. He is the lamp that was lit, and his life was what swept all of creation (and continues to sweep creation) to find the lost.” – I like this.

    This imagery of God lighting the lamp (Jesus) and using it to seek and find the lost so as to restore wholeness – both to the individual sinner and to the community that has been ruptured or fractured by his sins - speaks to me poignantly of the tenderness of the Father’s love and his compassionate mercy……………….the poignancy more pronounced - when you mentioned that it is for the drachmas (not golden sovereigns) - that the Lamp is lit!

    These insignificant coins remind me of the time I ‘balek’ kampong and offered a 50cent (Malaysian) to the ‘jaga-kereta’ –forgetting that cost of living has caught up there since my last visit too. I was told later that the rate was at least 4 times that. He practically threw the coin in my face and I believe if there were a ‘longkang’ nearby, he would have thrown it in without a backward glance. But the ways of the world are not God’s. Our Father went searching for the insignificant, the marginalized, the drab and common – the sinner. He loves all he created – drachmas too!

    This made me recall what St.Therese of Lisieux wrote in The Story of the Soul. She said that in God’s Garden there were so many different blooms – some huge and tall, fragrant and exotic like the roses towering and ‘queening’ over the lowly pansies and violets (including Singapore daisies too). Yet, without these little humble flowers the Garden would not be complete and pleasing to the eye……………for these grow luxuriantly under the shade of the bigger beauties and fill up the otherwise barren spaces in between the taller flowers, thus enhancing and completing a charming, lush and picturesque garden landscape. A community made up of saints and sinners (or saints-in-the-making) are mutually dependent- so as to grow in unity, strength and wholeness.

    God bless u, Fr.