September 11, 2016
There was something off about today’s Gospel lesson. It just didn’t seem quite complete; like there was something “missing”. Which is ironic because it included two stories about people looking for something they had lost- the shepherd looking for his lost sheep and the woman looking for her lost coin. For some reason, it just seems like there should be something else. Anyone else feel like this? Anyone else think that something was missing from the Gospel lesson?
What is missing from these stories of seeking the lost is that there is supposed to be one more story; one more parable about the importance of seeking the lost. The “missing” story just happens to be my favorite parable of all that Jesus shares. Perhaps my favorite story in all of Scripture, the Parable of the Lost Son (aka the Prodigal Son). There are three parables about seeking the lost in this chapter of Luke; the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Yet, the lectionary only gives us two of the three.
I guess it makes sense. The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are a whole lot shorter than the parable of the lost son. The former are only ten verses total. While the parable of the lost son is 21 verses by itself. The stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin are pretty simple, especially when compared to the lost son. But they still belong together. They still have the same basic pattern. 1) Someone loses something. 2) They don’t stop searching and seeking, they don’t rest, until they find what they had lost. 3) When they do get back what they had lost there is great rejoicing and much celebrating.
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
“Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of my was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”
These three stories belong together because they show the importance of seeking the lost. They belong together because they show the joy that comes when the lost are found. Joy in heaven and joy on earth. But in some ways, I guess it is good that they are separated in our lectionary readings. Certainly the length of the parable of the lost son makes it necessary to separate it. If we read all of Luke 15 in one service, we would hardly have time for much else. It’s also good because it allows us to focus more on the lost sheep and the lost coin. If we kept them all together, the lost sheep and lost coin would likely be lost all over again.
If we considered all three of these parables together, our focus would naturally be on the lost son because it is just so relatable. We can easily see ourselves as the lost son, or as his older brother. We know where we are in this story. We know who we are in this story. With the stories of the lost sheep and lost coin, they are a little bit harder. We don’t always know where we are supposed to find ourselves in them. We don’t always know who we are supposed to be in them. Are we represented by the lost sheep and the lost coin? Lost and afraid, waiting to be found? Or are we the “friends and neighbors” called to rejoice and celebrate when the lost are indeed found? Or are we the ones who are supposed to be seeking the lost?
To tell the truth, I don’t much feel like a sheep. Though there are some days I wonder. And some days I wander. I have no idea what a coin feels like. Does a coin even have feelings? Certainly, I enjoy any opportunity to rejoice and celebrate. Although it seems a little bit over the top to celebrate finding one sheep, especially when ninety-nine others were put at risk just to find the one that was lost. It seems downright stupid to rejoice and celebrate finding one lousy coin; the celebration probably costs more than the coin was worth.
So I guess that means that we are supposed to see ourselves as the ones looking; as the ones searching; as the ones seeking the lost. However I can’t help but think that is supposed to be God’s job, not ours. Certainly Jesus is identified in other places in scripture as a Shepherd. And the Father in the story of the Lost Son presents us with a picture of what we want, and expect, God to be like. There is nothing wrong with God being the woman who searches for her lost coin. Even though we most often think of God as a man, God is not a man. So we overlook the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. We can’t identify with them. We can’t figure out who we are supposed to be in them or what we are supposed to do because of them.
Today, instead of overlooking these parables, perhaps if we take a closer look at them, it will all become much clearer. We can see how we are supposed to identify with them, who we are supposed to be in them, and what are are supposed to do because of them. Jesus makes this clear from the very beginning as he says: “Which one of you, having one hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost? ”
Which one of you? Which one of you who are hearing this parable? Jesus is making the assumption that the answer would not be that none of us would do that; that it’s crazy to leave ninety-nine sheep to look for one; that it’s pointless to search for one coin when you have nine others. Jesus is assuming that everyone who hears these parables would not hesitate to leave the ninety-nine and search for the one. They would not hesitate to forget that they have nine more coins and focus on the one lost coin. Jesus is making this assumption because that is what he would do and that is what he does. Jesus is making this assumption because that is what God does. Jesus is making this assumption because that is what he expects us to do.
We don’t like that. We don’t like that Jesus expects this of us. It is so much easier for us to be the ones who are lost. It is so much easier for us to sit back and wait to be found. We would rather that God do God’s job and seek the lost. We would rather that God let us do our job and be the lost. But that’s not what these parables are about.
Certainly there are times when we are lost, there are times when we need to be found. But we can’t always be the lost, we can’t always need to be found. As followers of Jesus, we acknowledge that we were lost and have already been found. And we accept that it is up to us to seek others who are lost. It is up to us to search for those who need to be found. It is not solely God’s job, it is not only up to God to seek the lost. It is our job, too.
It is our job as Christians to leave behind the righteous who need no repentance and go search for those who need to be found. It is our calling as followers of Jesus to help bring joy to the angels of God, as we seek the lost and find sinners who are ready to repent. The only thing that is “missing” from our Gospel lesson today is us. The only thing missing is our willingness to be who God has created us to be, our willingness to do what Jesus calls us to do.
“Which one of you…?” Jesus asks. Which one of us? The answer should be all of us. All of us should be ready and willing to go after the lost until they are found. All of us should be ready and willing to search carefully until we find all that are lost. All of us should be ready and willing to rejoice and celebrate as we seek and find God’s lost children. It’s not up to God. It’s not up to me. It’s up to all of us.