The parable has to be one of the shortest Jesus shared with his listeners.
It’s the one about the woman who loses one of her ten coins and scours her residence to find it.
When the lost coin is found, she calls together her friends and neighbors and they celebrate the restoration of a tenth of her assets – a tenth of her livelihood.
“Rejoice with me,” she says in the invitation, “for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
Jesus likens this to the joy the angels experience in God’s neighborhood when one sinner repents.
Typically, the story is told in a way that commends the woman for her diligence – for “sweeping the house” and “searching carefully” until she finds the lost coin.
What often gets overlooked is the first thing the woman does in this parable.
Before anything else she has the good sense to light the lamp.
That’s key to the eventual success of her hunt and not to be taken for granted, since peasant homes in ancient Palestine were usually windowless.
How could she find that which was so crucial to her well-being if there were no light? What chances of finding the lost coin if she had to fumble around the residence in the dark?
But today there are numerous attempts to take away the lamp.
Take, for example, what is happening in Brown County, Wisconsin, where Green Bay is the county seat for 245,000+ residents and 57,500+ families. In terms of economic health, Brown County does better than other areas of the state: it has a poverty rate of only 7.3% (compared with 16.7% for Milwaukee County).
Brown County Supervisor Brad Hopp, however, wants to make sure that people who need health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) don’t have the benefit of the public library to access information about the provisions of the new law or how to enroll.
In effect, Supervisor Hopp wants to take away the lamp that allows residents of Brown County who have lost or never had health insurance to find it.
He’s proposed an ordinance that would disallow any county employees, including those in the eight branches of the Brown County Library, from using the county’s resources to help residents find out about the ACA. He claims: “We do not have the resources – financially, administratively, or expertise-wise.” (Green Bay Gazette, 8/7/13)
Licensed health insurance agent in the area, Jason Wisneski, agreed: “I can tell you with certainty that it is absolute LUNACY for ANY government workers, let alone librarians, to try to assist consumers in making a major medical insurance purchasing decision.” (Gazette website)
The director of the Brown County Library wants to keep the lamp – which is the library – available to any resident: “Our responsibility is to provide information to people who need it.” She explains that it’s no different than the library sharing information about how to apply for unemployment benefits.
The problem of taking away the lamp is serious enough, not just in Brown County, Wisconsin, but across the nation, that the president of the American Library Association released a public statement in mid-July about the role of libraries in relation to the new health care policy:
“Just as our communities turn to libraries for help to learn about citizenship and passport requirements, use public access computers to get disaster relief information, and obtain assistance with copyright and patent questions, we expect libraries will receive many inquires from the public about the Affordable Care Act…As always, libraries do not promote specific programs or points of view, but provide the public with balanced, unbiased access to information.” (American Libraries, September/October 2013, p.13)
It’s a lamp-like function. Critical, that is, for finding what has been lost or, until now, unavailable.
Not all that different than providing funding for the new health care program, which other government officials are so intent on denying.
Followers of Jesus, for whom the healing of body and mind was so integral a part of his ministry, have a stake in keeping the lamp available.
After all, who among those disciples of Jesus would want to deny the angels a cause to rejoice, to say nothing of the families and friends in Brown County, Wisconsin and across the nation who will soon have the health care that has been unavailable to them?
Keep the lamps in place and keep them burning!