“Last minute lectionary” is a series of short thoughts on the week’s narrative/Gospel lectionary reading.
Luke 15:1-32 (NIV)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Lost Son
11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinnedagainst heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your propertywith prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
This week’s lectionary reading is so well known as to be ubiquitous: Jesus’ “lost” parables, culminating in the parable of the prodigal son. Undoubtedly it’s a parable of pure mercy and of hard lessons for the “insiders” back then, and us “insiders” right now, but I want to focus on something a little different, offer something a little more off the beaten track.
I want to ruminate on the necessity of being lost.
It’s curious the lengths we will go to and the prevarication we will engage in to shut the door on things like “doubt.” We don’t allow it in our house, not even if it’s washed its feet and looks an awful lot like our own reflection. Honest doubt – and doubt, at least, always is – might as well be a cuss word: you’re never sure in which Christian circles talking about it will fly. But not many. And so we tuck those doubts into a box in the back of a closet.
The situation gets more dire when the owners of this doubt are involved in ministry. The best thing about being in ministry is that your faith is your job. But the worst thing about ministry is also that your faith is your job! I don’t restrict “ministry” here to only “official” positions; take it to mean anyone living out their faith in a visible way. It’s strange, people might not give a hoot about your good faith days, but just have a bad one, have it visibly, and suddenly everyone is all ears.
This is exactly why we need to take our “doubt box” out of the closet of course. Our natural instinct is to hide it, until it “goes away”, until it resolves itself and we number more confidently among the “found” once again. I imagine it would have been easier for the shepherd, the woman with her coin and the father in these parables to have kept quiet about what they had lost. It certainly would have been less embarrassing. Had these folks been real – hooboy, I can just hear the talk! “Phil always was a lazy shepherd, no wonder one of his sheep wandered off. Denise’s house is a mess, no wonder she couldn’t find her coin! Oh and Geoff – maybe a bit more rod and a little less spoil.” But no, the lost things are celebrated especially for their return.
Similarly, I imagine it would have been easier for Jesus to stick to the “hard and fast” rules, like the warning he gave about discipleship in last week’s reading. But he didn’t. He waded quite happily into this grey area of grace; of wanting the wandered off back. Perhaps it is only in being wanted back that we are able to return, again and again, to Jesus, and each return celebrated – indeed, cherished. It is only in being lost that we can truly be found.
(Perhaps this grace of being able to return from whatever separates us from God – doubt, apathy, anger, fear, shame – isn’t just grace, but a longing on our Father’s part, himself lost from so many of his children – waiting always at the door for their possible return.)
And so this week, instead of hiding our lostness from our congregations, our Facebook friends, our small groups, our blog readers, our co-workers, our spouses, our relatives – we might try owning up to it in all its complexity. Certainly there will be those who scorn (authenticity frightens those with the most to hide, after all), but more likely than not there will be those who will wait and watch with God for our return, and celebrate it when it occurs. And who knows? Perhaps in our lostness someone else is found, someone who didn’t even realise they were lost at all.