Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Peace be with you, brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ!
Losing something special to you has to be one of the worst feelings. You know exactly where you put it the last time you used it. If you are anything like me, you look all over the house, taking things out of drawers, moving furniture and vacuuming, calling friends and family in case they borrowed [whatever “it” is], and searching unlikely places.
Jesus is attracting the tax collectors and the sinners in town to come and listen to him (Luke 15:1). As usual, the Pharisees and the scribes are having a fit over Jesus associating himself with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 15:2). They question Jesus, “How can you be associated with them? How can you welcome them into our group?”
True to his form, Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes three parables. All three parables involve an individual losing something, looking and finding it, and rejoicing that they found it. The first two parables are covered in this week’s reading but the last one (the lost son) will be read during another time in the lectionary. The first parable involves a shepherd losing one of his sheep. The listeners would probably think the shepherd is ridiculous for going out looking for one sheep when he has ninety-nine other unattended sheep. No shepherd would leave ninety-nine sheep to look for a wandering lost sheep when predators could attack the herd.
Yet the shepherd does leave the ninety-nine sheep to go look in the wilderness for the one missing sheep (Luke 15:4). When the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he carries it home on his shoulders and rejoices (Luke 15:5). Once home, the shepherd calls his friends and neighbors and says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (Luke 15:6 NRSV). No one in their right mind throws a party for finding their lousy lost sheep, because the sheep is not regarded as a pet but as an income source. If anything, a shepherd may call a friend or two to recount how they had to go into the wilderness, get bitten by bugs, and walk up the biggest hill to find the lost sheep. We have all been there: your child, dog, or cat ran off outside and is not in sight. You panic and yell their name while racing around looking for them. After a few minutes, you may call friends and family to look for your dog, cat, or child while scanning the area. When you finally find your lost one, you do not rejoice but scold them for making you have a heart attack.
I remember being home alone at night for the first time with my oldest pup, Lily. My roommate who usually took Lily out at night was gone for the weekend. Before I went to bed, I took Lily out one last time and, sure enough, she saw a squirrel and chased after it. Since I am in an electric wheelchair, I could not chase after her down the hill. All I could do was yell her name and hope she came back. However, I did not rejoice when Lily came back; I scolded her for running off and called my roommate to tell him what happened. Don’t get me wrong: I was happy Lily came back, but knowing she could do it again and not come back scared me.
So, if sheep were not considered as valuable as our personal pets in the time of Jesus, why does Jesus tell this story? He explains his hyperbole to the Pharisees and the scribe. He tells them that there is more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner than over ninety-nine righteous individuals who have no need to repent (Luke 15:7). God cares so deeply about the one sinner who changes how he/she perceives and responds to the world to serves. God’s forgiveness and grace transforms the sinner who was found in the darkness. The parable shows the deep love God has for the sinner – the lost. God may have ninety-nine righteous individuals, but he continues to seek the one individual who is lost; he wants you.
The second parable is similar to the first one: the woman loses one silver coin out of ten (Luke 15:8a). The woman spends an entire evening looking for the one silver coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps to carefully search her whole house (Luke 15:8b). It seems crazy to us to spend an evening looking for a single coin when you have nine more. A coin has little value – one, five, ten, or twenty-five cents – to most Americans with good paying jobs, warm homes, food for three meals, and clothes on their backs. You cannot buy much with a single silver coin. However, a coin to the man on the street corner could be the difference in eating a meal or buying a warm winter hat. Families living under the poverty level understand the value of a quarter, though these days a quarter cannot buy much of anything. Parents save every cent they can to buy the essentials for their child.
In Biblical times, a single coin was worth one day’s wages, which could probably pay for the woman’s groceries for a few days. So yes, the woman furiously looks for a single silver coin an entire night. She sweeps and gets on her knees to carefully search her whole house. The woman is desperate to find the silver coin, because it means food for her and her family and could have been part of her dowry too.
When the woman finds the silver coin, she calls her friends and neighbors to celebrate. She says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I had lost.” (Luke 15:9b NRSV). The woman throws together a small get-together to celebrate finding the lost coin. She is relieved that she can buy food for her family and friends to share a meal with them. Her day’s work was not wasted.
Jesus explains that God’s angels are joyful when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). God spends his entire existence seeking us in our darkness where we hide in shame. We are not worthy of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love. Are you kidding? We have done it all: hated our parents, shamed the homeless, took food from children, denied someone shelter and protection, turned away the sick, killed our neighbor with our bitterness and unforgiveness, and [whatever “it” is] we are ashamed of. We hide in the darkness, because we are ashamed of our past; there is no going back and undoing our sins. But this is what gets me: God the Father celebrates each time a sinner repents by turning to Him. He even sent his only begotten son to suffer into this world to get beaten, get crucified, and to die on the cross for our sins – my sins, your sins – not just for a select few people but for all of us.
If the Lord searches for us as furiously as we do for our worldly stuff, we are pretty darn lucky. No other god or goddess searches for their children. But our God is so desperate to find us in the darkness that he sends his only begotten son as the light of the world to give and show us the way home to the Kingdom of God where angels rejoice every time a single sinner repents. We are pretty lucky to have such a loving God.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for furiously searching for us in the darkness by sending Jesus Christ as the light of the world. Lead us to repent as broken, unworthy sinners. Lead us to tell others of your love for them. Let us rejoice every time we welcome a new saint into the Kingdom of God. Thank you for undying love for us, your children. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant located here.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. What have you lost?
2. What are you searching for?
3. How do you feel God’s love for you?