Creation 2 – Luke 151-10: Lost Sheep
Today’s gospel is two parables, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. It is part of a long run of Jesus’ teaching in Luke, 6 chapters (1322-1927) when Jesus was mainly in the south of the Israel, heading towards Jerusalem for the last time.
Loosing sheep is not an everyday experience for most of us. Loosing coins maybe. Loosing house keys, car keys, passports, reading glasses, probably more so. For me, recently, it was my driving licence, a week before heading off to Canada for Miriam’s, our daughter’s, wedding, when we needed a hire car. It turned up on the computer scanner two days before we left. (Vince probably did loose sheep in his previous existence in Wales.) We are generally quite good at loosing things, so there is some power in these parables.
The coins that the woman in the parable looses would have been about a day’s wages, say £60 now for minimum wage, perhaps a bit more; 10 coins would have been all her savings. As I probably mention in most sermons, Rachel and I have lived abroad in developing countries for some years. Houses in villages tend to be dark, with earth floors, few cupboards or shelves. Windows with glass are rare People had less stuff, but finding things among that stuff was difficult. Houses in Jesus’ time would have been similar. If first met Rachel when we were in Kenya, and Rachel lived up on the slopes of Mount Kenya, without electricity. It was amazingly difficult to find things after dark, even with candles or lamps, so much so that if you lost something, it was best to wait until morning.
‘Lost sheep’ is a phrase that has passed into Christian vocabulary, from this parable, but Jesus’ main intention was to make a different point. These are pointed stories. These are pointed stories. Jesus is being criticised by religious people, Scribes and Pharisees. Scribes were teachers of the law, who devoted their time to study. This was not necessarily their full time job, more like a qualification, but it would have been a large part of their lives. They were experts in the law, and in the accumulated teaching of Judaism that derived from it. The Pharisees were more of people’s movement, and concentrated on living holy lives in accordance with the law. (Pharisee means ‘separated ones’).
They saw themselves as religious, as followers of the one true God. God had revealed himself in the law, and they were trying to obey him, down to the last nuance and interpretation of what he was askng. When they saw those who were not trying to follow the law as they did, they labelled them as sinners, and saw it as their duty to avoid them, to avoid contamination.
Jesus listens to the criticism, and sees the hardness, the lack of feeling. Making rules the most important thing, not care for people. We would have probably started by congratulating them on their attempts to follow God, on the undoubted effort that they put in to understanding, interpreting and trying to obey God’s commandments. Jesus goes straight for what they are missing.
‘Lost’ is an interesting term. All the sheep were part of the flock, but that some have wandered off. The implication is that everyone’s natural place is with God, knowing him, and those who are not with him have gone away, but could come back. And it is not just that Jesus was talking to God’s chosen people, Israel. In John 1016 he says: There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheep pen. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd. It is a very inclusive place from which to take the gospel to people. Not that they are the excluded, damned, who need to decide to come in. Rather that they are part of the family who have become estranged but will be welcomed back.
What does it say to us? It is about setting ourselves up as judges of who God is interested in, who will respond to him. We have an innate tendency to put people in boxes, to decide whether they are similar to us or not. Similar background, similar education, similar outlook, similar religious upbringing, similar cultural background. All of these make it easier to relate, and we tend to think that the good news of Jesus will find an easier home in people who are similar. Jesus had an amazing ability to attract those who were different to him, who were down and out, who were viewed as bad people. They found him and his message deeply attractive. This church is not bad at being welcoming and inclusive, but we have quite a way to go before we reach Jesus’ standard. Let us be more like him, less like Pharisees, and welcome his people back into his flock.
St. John and St. Stephens.
The Lost Sheep
One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, 2 the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!” 3 So Jesus told them this parable:
4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. 5 When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders 6 and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.
The Lost Coin
8 “Or suppose a woman who has ten silver coins loses one of them—what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. 9 When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together, and says to them, ‘I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.”