God doesn’t need you

Luke 15:1-10

15:1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just 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. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

            It was about six months ago that I preached on the better known parable from Luke 15, which is often referred to as the parable of the Prodigal Son.  And in that sermon I referenced the two parables from our scripture for today.  So today we are going to come back to these two lesser known parables as we continue to walk through Luke as we have been for the last couple weeks.  And I am going to really focus in on the middle of the three parables because I think that there is something very important that we can learn from this particular parable.  Or maybe I am focusing on the middle one because I have this belief that the middle one is always the most important, I don’t know (I am a middle childJ).

            Our scripture for this morning finds Jesus right where we so often find him: with the tax collectors and the sinners.  These were the non-religious people who the religious folks loved to hate.  The tax collectors worked for the enemy, collecting money for the Roman Empire and often taking more than they should have.  And then there were the sinners.  And “sinners” seems to be a large category that everyone that is not living up to the standards of the religious folks is lumped into.  One particular group of religious folks, the Pharisees, believed that it was the sinners that were preventing the Messiah from coming to rid the Jewish people of the Romans that were occupying the Promised Land.  The Pharisees believed that if only the sinners would clean up their acts and return to the Law of Moses, that the Messiah would come and rise up a revolt against the Romans.

            And here was Jesus…spending time with the tax collectors and the sinners.  He welcomed them and he ate with them.  And this just bothered the Pharisees and the scribes to no end.  This supposedly religious individual who was also supposedly a prophet and even considered by some to be the Messiah was keeping company with “them”.  So the scribes and the Pharisees decide to use this information to discredit Jesus and his ministry.

So this is the setting for Jesus to tell these parables.  The middle parable is the one that strikes me as the most interesting.  Jesus says that there is a woman who loses one of her 10 silver coins.  And this woman looks fervently for this coin.  The text says that she lights a lamp and sweeps the floor looking for it.  And when she finds the coin, what does she do?  She invites her neighbors over to celebrate!  She throws a party to celebrate the fact that she has found this lost coin!

            Now this scripture has traditionally been interpreted in a particular way, and I have usually interpreted it in this way as well.  It has only been recently after hearing a sermon by Greg Boyd that I believe my thinking was opened up a bit to a different understanding of what Jesus was trying to teach.

            Traditionally this scripture has been interpreted like this.  This is a widow woman and her life savings amounts to 10 silver coins.  The word in Greek that is translated as silver coin is drachma, which would have been the equivalent to one day’s pay for a day laborer.  So this widow, who would have no way of making money on her own in the first century, had 10 day’s worth of income to live off for the rest of her life.  So when she loses one of these coins, she panics.  She lights a lamp, sweeps the floor, moves the furniture, retraces her steps, and so on until she finds this lost coin.  Then when she finds it, she has reason to rejoice, so she throws a party for her neighbors to celebrate with her.

            But here are the questions that Boyd presents that make me question this interpretation.  Is it important that Jesus describes this person as a woman?  Note that he does not call her a widow, but he does specify that it is a woman.

            What is the reason for there being 10 coins?  And must they be silver drachma coins?  Wouldn’t the point of the parable be strengthened if this was one of five coins or maybe even her only coin that she had lost?  And wouldn’t the point of the parable be strengthened if it was a more valuable coin, like one made of gold?

            What is the purpose of lighting a lamp to search for the coin?  This seems to signify that it is nighttime.  And if it was only a drachma, couldn’t it wait until morning?  Why did she feel that she needed to exert the energy to look for it after the sun went down rather than waiting until morning?  It wasn’t going to go anywhere on its own.  It would still be there in the morning.

            In the NIV, when the woman finds the coin she says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.”  Why does she refer to it as “my coin”?  If I lose a dollar, I don’t say, “Have you seen my dollar” or “I seemed to have lost my dollar”.  And I don’t say, “I have found my dollar” when I find it.  I say, “I lost a dollar.”

            And finally, when she finds the coin, why does she throw a party?  Parties cost money, and if you only have 10 drachmas, it seems like a poor use of those drachmas to buy snacks and drinks for your neighbors.

            What Boyd suggests is a traditional practice that took place in the first century in Palestine.  During this time it was common for two people, when they got engaged to be married, for the man to give the woman a necklace with 10 silver drachma coins attached.  It was a valuable gift, worth ten days of work, which showed the rest of the world that this young woman was now betrothed to a certain man.  This would be very consistent with the giving of an engagement ring in our current context. 

Just a bit of an aside, I remember when Sonya and I got engaged the ring salesman told me that it is traditional to spend the equivalent of two months income on the engagement ring.  That was no problem for me at the time: I was an unemployed college student.  So why stop at two month’s income?  Why not twelve?  Twelve times zero is still zero.

            So this was a common practice back in the first century.  The gift was equivalent to 10 days worth of work in street value, but it was worth so much more to the recipient of the necklace.

            So the major difference between a widow losing one of her only 10 coins and a young engaged woman losing a part of her betrothal necklace is that the woman who loses a coin that is a part of her necklace doesn’t need that coin.  She wants it.

            Now we all know that there is a big difference between a “want” and a “need”.  Something that bothers me, probably more than it should, is when someone says that they need something that they really do not need.  I need a diet coke; I need a new car; I need a vacation; I need some ice cream.  Ice cream is a good thing and there is nothing wrong with ice cream, but nobody ever needs ice cream.  You want ice cream.

            A need is something that you cannot survive without.  If you don’t have that thing, you will cease to be.  Or maybe you are incomplete without it.  We need food, water, and shelter.  Without these things, we will die.  Our bodies will shut down, they will stop performing the way that they were intended to perform.  We simply cannot exist without the things that we need.  But we can exist without the things that we want.

            If the woman in the parable was indeed a woman and she lost 1/10 of her total possessions, then she probably did need that money to buy food and clothing and to pay for shelter.  But if the other interpretation is correct and this was a part of her engagement necklace, then she wanted the coin because it had value to her far beyond the value of a drachma.  This wasn’t any old coin, it was her coin.

            It has been common since the creation of humanity for us to ask the question, “Why are we here?”  Why did God create human beings?  What is the purpose of life?  These are questions that humanity has struggled with for a long, long, time.

            One attempt to explain why we are here has been to say that God created us because he needs us.  The reasoning goes like this: God is love, so God needs someone to love.  Furthermore, God needs us to love him in return and God needs us to do God’s work here on earth.

            The problem that I have with this line of thinking is that it suggests that without us God is incomplete.  Is there anything that God needs in order to exist?  Does God really need us?  No!  Before you were born, God was.  Before human beings ever graced the face of the earth, God was.  Before God ever took a formless void and spoke creation into existence, God was.  We do not complete God.  God has existed before the beginning of time without us.  God does not need us.  God wants us.

            We serve a God who wants us so much that he will light a lamp and sweep the floors all night long looking for us.  We serve a God who wants us so much that when we return to him, he celebrates and throws a party.

            Want and need are too very different things.  If God desired our loved and obedience because it was something that he needed to survive, I think that would cheapen his love for us.  To me, if God needed our love, then he is rejoicing over our return to him and he is searching for us like a woman searching for a lost coin because he is simply trying to maintain his own well-being.  But God doesn’t need you.  God wants you.  That’s better.  It is nice to be needed, but it is even better to be wanted.

            I’ll put in a quick plug here which will also serve as an illustration.  The Mennonite Women of Virginia will have their annual conference from October 29th through the 31st at the Best Western Hotel in Waynesboro this year.  So it is just down the road from us, and I hope that many of you women will be able to attend.

            I am especially interested in this year’s conference because my friend Cindy is the speaker for the event.  Cindy and I attended seminary together.  She is the pastor of Youth and Family Life at Lindale Mennonite Church just north of Harrisonburg.

            You may remember Cindy, or at least that I shared about Cindy around this time last summer.  Our church helped participate in a benefit auction for Cindy and Luke to raise money to be able to adopt a baby boy from Russia.  We donated a gift basket that was made up of items for a “date night” in Staunton.

            Luke and Cindy have struggled with infertility all of their married lives.  And after treatments and drugs and needles and diets and about every other thing you can imagine, Luke and Cindy decided to adopt a child.  And there was quite an expense involved in doing so.  They have had to make a couple trips over to Russia to interview with the adoption agency.  They had to live in Russia for about a month after they got their son before they could bring him back to the US.  They have had to fill out paper work and provide reference forms and you name it.  But just this summer, they brought their son, Elijah, home.

            I think of what life will be like for Elijah growing up.  And I just know that some day the kids at school are going to find out that Elijah was adopted and someone is going to make fun of him for it.  I can hear the kids now, “You’re adopted.  You don’t even know your mother.”

            But do you know what?  Elijah can say something so powerful to those kids, something that will probably silence any kids that give him a hard time.  He can say, “My parents wanted me.”

            Luke and Cindy didn’t need Elijah.  They were getting by just fine.  They own their own home, they each have their own car, they each have good jobs.  They have food on the table, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads.  They didn’t need Elijah.  But they sure did want Elijah.

            Luke and Cindy did the cultural equivalent to lighting a lamp, sweeping the floor, and then throwing a party as they were looking for this child that they wanted so badly.  If Elijah ever feels like he isn’t loved all he needs to do is think about the thousands of dollars that his parents spent to adopt him.  If Elijah ever doesn’t feel loved all he needs to do is think about the thousands of miles that his parents had to travel to adopt him.  If Elijah ever doesn’t feel loved all he needs to do is think about all of the prayers that his parents, relatives, and friends offered up to God as his parents were trying to adopt him.  No, Luke and Cindy didn’t need Elijah, but you better believe that they wanted him.

            Does God need us or does God want us?  God doesn’t need us for anything.  God got by before we came along and God will get by after we are gone.  God doesn’t need us, but God sure does want us.  And when we get lost, God searches for us as if he needed us, as if his life depended upon it.  God gave his life so that he can find us.  That’s how much God wants us.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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