Sunday Readings: Exodus 32.7-11,13-14; 1 Timothy 1.12-17; Luke 15.1-32
The tax-collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus, at which the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” – Luke 15.1
The parables that lure sinners and prostitutes to seek out Jesus feature a shepherd’s lost sheep, a homemaker’s lost coin, and a father’s two sons. The parables inspire compassion by singling out a shepherd’s care for one lost sheep out of a hundred, the woman’s value on one coin of ten, and a father’s enduring relationships with both his prodigal son and his righteous one.
A single, straying sheep is probably in danger, tangled in briars, caught in a crevasse, or young and not paying attention. Left alone the sheep may died. Still it seems risky to leave the 99 for the one but the parable is a story with a point. One sheep matters. The shepherd carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders is iconic of God’s compassion for each of us. The shepherd cannot help sharing with friends and neighbors the joy he feels in find the one sheep.
The woman’s search for one lost coin demonstrates how close to subsistence she lives that finding one coin matters. Her house must be small and dark. She lights a lamp to sweep. The two parables are a parallel pair, one a man’s example, one a woman’s. Many statues and medals illustrate Jesus as the compassionate sheep, including Pope Francis’s pectoral cross Seldom do Christians see images of God as the homemaker trimming her lamp and sweeping her house until she finds the coin. Both the compassionate shepherd and the determined homemaker image God. Both parables end with joy in finding the lost.
In the parable of the father with two sons, the prodigal takes his inheritance and squanders it on fair weather friends. He repents at a pig trough when we realizes the hogs are eating better than he is, so he returns to his father to great rejoicing. The righteous son is working in the fields when he hears the music welcoming his brother home. The hard-working son thinks his father should not celebrates his brother’s return when he has never celebrated his diligence. He refuses to join in the welcome even when his father comes out to urge him. The parable ends with the righteous son lost.
Who is your God more like — the shepherd, the homemaker, or the father? Who has insisted on finding you when you were lost? Whose compassion has helped you find yourself?
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