The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus addressed this parable to them. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1-10)
Our Gospel passage for today is full of emotion and implications for our lives.
On its face, these two parables seem out of place in today’s world – perhaps even foolish. After all, if you lose 1% of your holdings, you don’t risk losing the 99% of your holdings to get it back. By leaving the 99, you risk them roaming off, being stolen, or being killed and eaten by a wolf. You don’t sweep the floor all night looking for a penny if your savings are ample.
But these parables teach us more about the heart of God than a library full of theological treatises. They begin by reminding us that God cares about each one of us. He cares deeply enough to go out of his way to save us when we are lost. And who amongst us has not been lost at some point in his/her life?
We can be good, hard working, and successful in our career and still feel lost, without a true sense of direction or meaning. We can be holding it all together and still be lost in the depths of grief or despair. We can be a good spouse, doing all the right things, giving all the right appearances, and still be lost in a loveless marriage. We can have a good reputation and be lost in questions of our own identity and purpose.
Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us, the Father never abandons us. That is the GOOD NEWS!
But we also need to remember the audience to whom Jesus was telling these parables. The Pharisees. Filled with self-importance, hardened in their self-righteousness and swelled in their self-image. So, the other message here is about us. How often are we the Pharisees of life?
Similar to the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, who absolutely refuses to come into the party because “that son of yours” doesn’t deserve a party; because those other partygoers are sinners, they are lost and should remain lost. Those others are of a different race, or believe different than we do, or don’t believe at all, or live a sinful lifestyle, or … and you can fill in the blanks. We are way too inclined to put people into categories and then label them.
Christianity isn’t for the self-proclaimed self-righteous. The ones who can’t help but tell us how faithful, prayerful and saintly they are. Those whose Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook posts drip with verse after verse of scripture and bumper-sticker quips of how God is for this and against that. Distorting the faith to fill their image,
No, the followers of Jesus are the ones who follow Jesus. And not just to the cross. But to the field and the valley and the mountains, looking through the scrub for a well-loved and well-lost sheep. We’re the ones who are to be pulling the world’s refrigerator out from the wall to find the long-lost treasures underneath that are so to precious to God.
If in our heart there is no mercy, no joy of forgiveness, we are not in communion with God, even if we observe all of his precepts, for it is love that saves, not the practice of precepts alone. It is love of God and neighbor that brings fulfilment to all the Commandments.
And this is the love of God, his joy: forgiveness. He waits for us always!
Prayer of The Day
Lord Jesus, May I never doubt your love nor take for granted the mercy you have shown to me. Fill me with your transforming love that I may be merciful as you are merciful.
We are called to be vulnerable to those outside the boundaries of our private lives and our community of faith: to give with no expectation of reward, to love without demand for return, to reach out to those in need with unrelenting care, to release preoccupation with the cares and concerns of our own lives (or perhaps through these cares) to reach out in love to those who are not easy to love. We are called to do all this in delight and with joy and in so doing we mirror the foolishness of the LOVE we call God. St Paul tells us that God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. By God’s grace we are the weak and the foolish.