Sometimes I longed to go back home, to tell my parents I was wrong and ask their forgiveness. But I knew there was no turning back, I had not only disgraced them, I had broken the law of my people and turned my back on God. For such as I there could be no forgiveness. I was moderately rich – enormously rich by the standards of my home village – but in their eyes it was unholy, ill-gotten wealth. I had married a beautiful woman, a foreigner, who laughed to scorn the few remnants of Judaism I still clung to, and then ran off with a Greek merchant who was ten times richer than I. I had laughed through my pain, scorning myself for a fool who should have known better, and remembering the old story of Samson and Delilah. I wasn’t the first man to be fooled by a pretty face, it simply joined me to a vast company of fools through the ages who had been so easily seduced.
I had friends, Greeks and Romans who did business here, and a few liberal Jews from Herod’s party as well, we traded, we partied, we gossiped at the baths, but though their company passed the empty hours, they were none of them men I trusted. If it served their interest to do so, they would stick a knife in my back without a moment’s hesitation – and not just metaphorically. I was sick at heart and weary of life, and had not yet reached my twenty-eighth birthday. At night I would dream of that little Galilean village that smelled of fish, and my weary parents who had loved me so much, and I would wake up in tears. At daybreak I would go back to my business and trade twice as ruthlessly as before, because I was angry with the world. But most of all I was angry with myself.
This was my frame of mind when I had to go to Galilee on business. I always carefully avoided the area where my family lived, but there were plenty of other places where I could go down to the waterfront and recapture some of the feelings of my boyhood. And that was where I was heading when I saw the crowd. I had left my fine horse at the inn, so, seized with curiosity, I made my way down and mingled with the crowd.
They were focused on a young man, not much older than myself, who was speaking. I did not understand what he was saying, something about a shepherd and his sheep, I had obviously arrived in the middle of the story, but his voice was compelling, so I stopped to listen. “suppose a woman had ten coins, and she loses one ..” As I listened to the story, I was suddenly reliving a day in my childhood. My mother had had such coins, I doubt if it were as many as ten, we were very poor, but she treasured those coins, if our father were taken ill, or there were no fish in the nets, they would be all that stood between us and starvation. And one day, just like in the Teacher’s story, she lost one. How we hunted for that one pathetic coin! (I thought guiltily of my saddlebags full of money). In the end we found it, outside, covered in mud and stinking filth. I would have thrown it away in disgust, but my mother would do no such thing. “Do you think it is worth any less because it is dirty?” she scolded me, and proceeded to clean it up. She was so glad to get her coin back, even in that state.
But what was the Teacher saying? “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents ..” I thought of myself as a man of many coins, but now I saw that I, myself, was that one coin, misplaced, and now caked with the filth of the world. But that didn’t mean I was unwanted. I could still be cleaned up.
I didn’t stay to hear any more. I knew what I had to do. First I must make my way to that little village and ask my parents to forgive me. Then, whatever their response was, I must return to Jerusalem and take my sin offering to the temple. God still wanted me! And as I turned to go, the teacher turned his head and looked straight at me. He smiled, and in that smile I felt the love of God welcoming me home ..