1 of 100… 1 of 10 – the VALUE of ONE – Thursday, 31st Week in ordinary time – Luke 15:1-10
It is the nature of God to seek the lost. In the other religions of the world, man is seeking and searching for God, but in the Christian faith it is the God of the Universe who comes seeking and searching for you! It is for this reason that Luke chapter 15 has been called “the gospel in the gospel,” as if it contained the very distilled essence of the good news which Jesus came to share.
There was a double standard applied to Jesus. He could dine with the upper crust of society without reprisal, but anytime he dined in the home of a commoner, he was criticised – even reprimanded because he ate with “publicans and sinners” as if he had committed a criminal offense. This is the context of Luke 15 and the context of three parables, two of which are unique to Luke; the lost coin and the lost son. In each of these stories, the plot line is: something is lost. A sheep is lost, a coin is lost, a son has wandered away from home. It reveals the heart of God, who searches out for the lost.
The parables are directed towards the scribes and Pharisees (15:1-2) because they do not like the fact that Jesus welcomes everyone unconditionally; they did not like the people with whom He was hanging around. So Jesus reveal something vital; we are valued by God to be of great worth because we are His.
In every story, what is lost is of great worth to the one to whom it belongs. They are lost, not merely left somewhere and become separated from its rightful source. What’s interesting is that each could arguably be seen as having limited value. For example, anyone owning a hundred sheep in Jesus’ day would be very well off considering that most Palestinian farmers might own ten or fewer sheep. Yet there are some things that are loved because they are valuable and some things that are valuable because they are loved. For Jesus, no one is just part of the crowd.
The parable of the sheep also appears in the Gospel of Matthew 18: 10-14. Its’ interesting to note that sheep fit in a very unique category among animals. Many animals may be able to find their way back home but sheep are not one of them. Even more, they have no natural defences. Almost all animals have either claws, sharp teeth, quills, a hard shell, or speed to escape predators but not a lamb; they have no defences.
The wilderness of Judaea was and is hilly and has many places sheep could navigate but humans can’t, which could make the sheep difficult to find. The myriad predators would have rendered the sheep vulnerable. The shepherd looks for the sheep with ostensibly little hope of finding it or finding it alive. Against all odds to the contrary, the shepherd discovers the sheep and restores it to the flock.
Then there is the lost drachma. A drachma is either a half-day or a whole day’s wages. There is considerable debate regarding the relative significance of the drachma to the woman: while some have suggested that the ten drachma represent the woman’s life savings, others suggest the woman is wealthy because she appears to own her home. Others have suggested this coin could have been part of a head-dress made of ten silver coins linked together by a silver chain. Such a headdress was a highly significant wedding piece that was so significant it could not be taken from her even to pay a debt. Imagine losing the diamond from your engagement ring.
In both parables, what is lost is deemed valuable and those who searched were single-minded and the search is diligent and tireless. Upon recovering the sheep and the coin, respectively, the shepherd and the woman call their neighbours and friends to rejoice with them. In their joy and in their celebration, one wonders whether they spent more than they gained in the recovery in the lost sheep and coin. However, the measure of rejoicing clearly suggest to us that the recovered object was irretrievably lost and its recovery was unlikely—if not impossible.
The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin illustrate the constant, faithful, unrelenting love of God for each of us, but especially for sinners. God never gives up on anyone. Yet the religious leaders, the very people we would have thought would be ecstatic about Jesus and his message, pushed Him away. The people we might have thought would have no interest in Jesus are the very ones who sit before Him with eager hearts and open minds.
It is a sad truth that some of the hardest people to reach with the gospel are those who have been deeply involved in their church. Those people sometimes think they have things all figured out and become unteachable. People from outside the church are often more willing to hear what God has to say. Luke invites us to the table with the tax collectors and sinners, inviting us to find God’s image in all that seems lost, for “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37, 18:27).
What is our takeaway?
Pigeonholing people ( in this case the tax collectors and sinners) permits us to wash our hands and leave. We may have the attitude of the Pharisees and look at some people and think of them as throwaways in society.
We often associate the idea of sin with breaking rules. But at its root it is not simply about rules, it’s about relationship. We have gone OUR OWN WAY. “Going our own way” is not simply about defying rules but defying our relationship; declaring our independence from God.
It should strike us how common it is, especially among the clergy to think: “How many people are a part of my church?” Jesus is focused on another question: How many people are not? How many people are lost and have not yet come home?