Yr C ~ Creation 1 ~ Luke 15:1-10
So, a pretty straightforward and obvious little parable about being lost and found, right? Don’t count on it!
Let’s think about this for a minute. What does it mean to be lost today?
Who are the lost?
There’s the usual suspects – those with no religion, or too much greed, or too many possessions, or those in hyper-partisan politics, or Chelsea fans (Habs fans?).
Maybe the lost are simply those who’ve lost their way, or lost God’s way, or maybe have never had a way.
To be lost suggests that at one time you had it and then you didn’t, that you were in before you were out – which brings the question, “How do we get lost?”
We call these the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. But if you read them carefully that’s not what they are. They’re not actually ‘lost’ in the way we usually think. Lost makes it sound like they were valued and loved and then they became separated from their people and so the natural thing was to get them back into the fold. That sounds great – we lose our way and Jesus comes running after us to save us from ourselves and restore us to our belovedness. I once was lost, but now I’m found – a personal salvation story.
But that’s not what’s going on here.
This sheep and this coin weren’t lost – they were discarded. Thrown away and excluded.
That’s not lost. That’s something very different.
And Jesus is making sure we understand what went wrong, and how to fix it.
Parables are supposed to be thought-bombs – stories that jolt our perceptions of the world and help us see through Jesus’ eyes the Ways of God.
So welcome to the parable of the excluded sheep and the discarded coin.
To get what I’m saying you have to look more carefully at the first two verses of this chapter to understand why Jesus taught this concept, and at whom he’s aiming.
Luke 15:1-3 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable.
Who are the “them” that Jesus is talking to? It’s the Pharisees and the scribes – not so much his own disciples here.
Why does that matter?
Because Jesus is trying to describe God’s economy, which operates on a different level than our usual economy does.
The Pharisees and the scribes represent the religious establishment. They are the keepers of the rules – the enforcers of the purity laws.
In their culture at that time being deemed clean or unclean was a big deal. If you were deemed unclean – whether because of sinful behaviour, or a natural medical condition (even such utterly un-sinful things as menstruation or childbirth) you had to pay the appropriate penalty sacrifice or purification sacrifice at the Temple, or present yourself to the Pharisees in your town and they would decide if you were clean. To be deemed unclean meant to be excluded – because if a ‘clean’ person came into contact with a person deemed unclean then that clean person would also be unclean. So the unclean were excluded, and separated out from the rest of the family or village.
Sinners, the unclean, had to be ‘othered’ and removed. For those with chronic illnesses, or those too poor to pay their sacrifices, or those who chose despised work like being a tax collector, there was no way out of their ‘sinfulness’, no way to stop being unclean – so they were permanently excluded, discarded from polite society.
And Jesus had the nerve and the gall to sit down and eat with such people! read on