God the Good Woman … sounds heretical, doesn’t it? Yet it’s Jesus who gives us this image!
No doubt, you are familiar with the story of the Lost Sheep. The shepherd loses one of his one-hundred sheep. He leaves the ninety-nine to search for the one that is lost. The shepherd is, of course, Jesus (Luke 15:3-7).
As well, you know the story of the Prodigal Son and the father who races to welcome home his lost child. Again, the father represents God (Luke 15:11-32).
Sandwiched between these two celebrated images of God is the often-forgotten woman. Or as writer Linda Maloney says,
“Between the man and his sheep and the man and his son, the woman and her coin are metaphorically ‘swept under the rug’.”
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, 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 that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10).
These are the words of Jesus.
Forgotten to us, in our culture, is the shocked response each of these images would have brought about in Jesus’ audience. We have become accustom to thinking of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. But to the people in Jesus’ day, shepherds were part of the group of “sinners” … scorned and unwanted … particularly by the Pharisees who had come to complain about whom Jesus was hanging out with.
The father in the “Prodigal” story was shocking. Culturally he should have been reserved, distant, and aloof. But according to Ancient Middle East authority, Dr. Ken Bailey, the father’s behavior would have been seen as undignified, culturally-offensive, and womanly.
The woman … well … the parable of the woman would have been scandalous and outrageous.
As with all of Jesus’ parables, scholars conclude that a parable had more than one idea or lesson. “…each parable is like a great diamond that sheds light in a variety of directions.” So too with our parable of the woman who lost her coin.
One of the common themes of this trilogy of parables (the sheep, the coin, the son) is the lostness of each, the subsequent finding of each, and the joy in Heaven as a result.
Another theme within these parables—or another light from our diamond—is how each main character represents God.
I find it hard not to get angry at this point—for the church has often put a shroud over this truth.
Imagine how different our world would be if we taught our children not only is God like a good shepherd, but God is also like a woman.
Would it reduce domestic violence and rape? Would it raise the gender imbalanced pay-level worldwide? Would women be more highly valued in all spheres and circumstances?
I think so—which is why I both weep and rage.
The worth Jesus places on women is staggering. He lived and taught among rabbis who wrote, “Women are said to possess four traits: they are greedy, eavesdroppers, slothful and envious.” Or “Let the teachings of the Torah be burned, but let them not be handed over to women.”
Yet, Jesus persisted in His analogy regardless of the shock-factor to His audience. He purposefully included a parable which portrayed God as female.
God, as the “Searching-One” … we, as the “wanted-ones” … as the coin … incapable of “finding” ourselves.
But why a woman? Why did Jesus add the parable of the woman?
I could muse it was because there were women standing nearby who needed to know they were wanted.
Or perhaps it was part of Jesus’ plan—part of His continuing actions to raise the value of women through His ministry.
But I think more likely, it is because in some way we still don’t understand, God is indeed like a woman. Somehow describing God as female was important enough to Jesus that He risked increased ostracization and anger. Luke tells us Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. No doubt the use of this image brought Him closer to the cross.
In our parables, the woman takes responsibility for having lost her coin. The shepherd seems to blame the sheep.
Is this a glimpse into the heart of God? Does God somehow feel a sense of self-blame—of culpability—over us lost-ones?
Is the longing for relationship so fierce that God will accept blame just so the lost are found?!
Isn’t this what Jesus did on the cross—take the blame for our lostness?!
The Woman and Her Coin … it is a picture one could hang up beside the Good Shepherd.
It is both an extraordinary and significant picture of God’s profound desire—for us.
It is an unexpected and earth-shattering—or rather image-shattering— picture of our God.
Join me and spread the word…
Possible Next Steps—
- You may find it self-revealing, as well as God-revealing, to imagine yourself in the audience that day when Jesus spoke of the woman and the lost coin. Become curious about your reactions. What does it reveal about yourself? About God? About your image of God?
- Would your church be open to a pictorial display of the images of God represented in these three parables?
- Are you a Sunday school or Bible study teacher? Think of the impact the three images could have on children and/or adults when they spend as much time studying the woman as they do the shepherd and father.
If you try any of these Possible Steps, let me know, I’d love to hear how it went!
Between the man and his sheep…: Chapter by Linda Maloney. Book authored by Mary Ann Beavis, The Lost Coin: Parables of Women, Work, and Wisdom. (New York, NY: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), p. 34.
…the father in the Prodigal story…: Kenneth Bailey, Finding the Lost Cultural Keys to Luke 15. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992), p. 203.
…each parable is like a great diamond…: Bailey, Ibid.
Women are said to possess four traits…: The midrash Rabbah on Genesis (a fourth-century rabbinic commentary, p. 383). Bailey, Ibid., p. 202-203.
Let the teachings of the Torah…: Tractate Sotah of the Jerusalem Talmud (vol. 27, p. 95), Bailey, Ibid., p. 202.