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The Lost Piece of Money
by Richard Chenevix Trench
Archbishop of Dublin
Chapter 23 from Notes on the Parables of our Lord
Luke xv. 8-10
The preceding parable [The Lost Sheep] has anticipated much that might have been said upon this; yet it would be against all analogy of former twin parables, if we assumed that the two did no more than say the same thing twice over.  In the Pearl and the His Treasure, in the Leaven and the Mustard-seed, the second may seem at first sight only a repetition of the first; while yet, on closer inspection, important differences have revealed themselves; and so it is here.  If the Shepherd in the last parable was Christ, the woman in this may be the church.  Or should we understand by her that Divine Wisdom, so often magnified in Proverbs as seeking the salvation of men, and here set forth as a person and not an attribute (cf. Luke 2:49), this will be no different view.  The two explanations flow into one, if only we keep in mind how the Church is the instrument by which the Holy Spirit seeks for the lost, and that only as quickened and informed by the Divine Spirit, is it stirred up to these active ministries of love for the seeking and saving of souls (Rev. xxii. 17).  That the Church should be personified as a woman is natural; and the thought of the Holy Ghost as a mother has at different times been near to the minds of men. 

‘Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?’  In this piece of money expositors, both ancient and modern, have delighted to trace a resemblance to the human soul, originally stamped with the image and superscription of the Great King, (‘God created man in His own image,’ Gen. i. 27), and still retaining traces of the mint from which it proceeded; however, by sin that image has been nearly effaced, and the superscription become well nigh illegible.  One clings with pleasure to so instructive a suggestion; but it must not be forgotten that the Greek drachma, the coin here named, had not, like the Latin denarius (Matt. xxii. 20), the emperor’s image and superscription upon it, but some device, as of an owl, a tortoise, or a head of Minerva.  As the woman seeks anxiously her piece of silver, even so the Lord, through the ministrations of His Church, gives diligence to recover the lost sinner, to bring back the money of God to His treasury, from which originally it issued.  The allusion often found in the lighting of the candle to the mystery of the Incarnation, - the divine glory which the Saviour had within, shining through the fleshly covering which only in part concealed it, - must of course give way, if we interpret the parable as is here proposed.  Rather it must be explained by the help of such hints as Matt. v. 14, 15; Phil. ii. 15, 16; Ephes. v. 13, supply.  The ‘candle’ is the Word of God; which candle the Church holds forth, as it has and exercises a ministry of this Word.  It is by the light of this Word that sinners are found, that they find themselves, that the Church finds them.  With this candle to aid her, she proceeds to ‘sweep the house;’ which sweeping, as Bengel well remarks, is not effected without dust.   What a deranging of the house for a time!  how does the dust which had been suffered to settle down and to accumulate begin to rise and fly about; how unwelcome all which is going forward to any in the house, who have no interest in what is being done, whose only interest is that nothing should trouble their selfish ease.  The charge against the Gospel is still the same, that it turns the world upside down, (Acts xvii. 6).  And in a sense so it does; for only let its message be proclaimed in earnest, and how much of latent aversion to the truth reveals itself now in open enmity; how much of torpid estrangement from God is changed into active hostility; what indignation is there against the troublers of Israel, the witnesses in sackcloth who torment the dwellers upon earth, (Rev. xi. 10).  She meanwhile who bears the candle of the Lord, amid all this uproar and clamor is diligently looking for and finding her own again. 

In the preceding parable the shepherd when to look for his strayed sheep in the wilderness; but in the house this piece of money is lost, and in the house therefore it is sought and found.  This is not accidental.  In that other there was the returning of the Son to the heavenly places, but in this there is the hint of a visible Church which has been founded upon earth, and to which sinners are restored.  And there are other slighter variations between the two, intelligible at once when we see there the more personal and immediate ministry of Christ, and here the secondary ministry of His Church.  The shepherd says, ‘I have found my sheep;’ but the woman, ‘I have found the piece of money;’ not ‘my piece of money,’ for it is in no sense hers, as the sheep was his.  He says, ‘which was lost;’ but she, ‘which I had lost,’ acknowledging a fault of her own as having contributed to the loss; for a sheep strays of itself, but a piece of money could only be missing by a certain negligence on their part who should have kept it. 

And now ‘she calleth her friends and her neighbours together,’ – they are female friends and neighbours, although this nicety in the keeping of the parts (Ruth iv. 14, 17) escapes us in English, - that these may be sharers in her joy.  Yet this need not prevent us from understanding by them the angels, - we have the Lord’s warrant for so doing, - whose place, it will be observed, is not ‘in heaven’ in this parable, as it was in the preceding; for this is the rejoicing together of the redeemed and elect creation upon earth at the repentance of a sinner.  Among the angels who walk up and down the earth, who are present in the congregations of the faithful (I Cor. xi. 10), joying to behold their order, but most of all rejoicing when a sinner is converted, there shall be joy, when the Church of the redeemed, quickened by the Holy Spirit, summons them to join with it in consenting hymns of thanksgiving to God for the recovery of a lost soul.  For, indeed, if the ‘sons of God’ shouted for joy and sang together at the first creation (Job 38:7), by how much better right when ‘a new creation’ had found place, in the birth of a soul into the light of everlasting life (Ephes. 3:10; 1 Pet. 1:12); for, according to that exquisite word of St. Bernard, the tears of penitents are the wine of angels, and their conversion, as Luther has said, causes Te Deums among the heavenly host.