Good News of a Good God: XVII Pentecost (Proper 19C)
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 he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
If you remember one thing that I say this morning, remember this: The Gospel is all about God!
It sounds so simple, but it’s very easy to forget. We can get caught up with our own part of the story → our creation, our sins, our salvation. Or we can get caught up with the ethics of how to live as Christian the right or wrong way. We forget that at the core, Jesus preached about God’s Kingdom, which is God’s character. Jesus brings GOOD NEWS because he reveals to the world that GOD is GOOD!
In this passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is spending time with “tax collectors and sinners.” These are unsavory folks, the scum of Jewish society.
They’re the ones who you wouldn’t want to be caught spending time with because it would be embarrassing to your reputation. They have public personas and everyone knows what they do, but nobody can stop them. Think of a mafia leader or a pimp or sex trafficker. They’re the kinds of people you don’t want to mess with.
But they came to Jesus to hear his message, and Jesus welcomed them. He ate with them. He treated them like you would treat an old friend.
So the religious folks, the good, upstanding citizens, the ones who maintained the proper order of society -- they weren’t happy with Jesus.
He was supposed to be some kind of rockstar rabbi, a famous preacher who the masses of people adored. But he kept bad company. He had bad manners. He sure acted like a bad man.
Then, like the “respectable” people they were, they grumbled and complained about him. They gossiped behind his back and did not confront Jesus to his face.
Presumably, Jesus was in mixed company, giving a sermon or offering some kind of teaching. And there were Pharisees and scribes who came to hear him, but also those people, the riff-raff and sinners were there and Jesus didn’t turn them away.
The scribes and Pharisees became uncomfortable just being around the kinds of people we’re describing. And I imagine their discomfort, grumbling, and judgment were obvious to everyone there.
Jesus tells these two parables, and importantly, they are parables about God and God’s actions, not about people.
Parable of the Lost Sheep
In this story, Shepherd is God
Shift from 2nd person to 3rd person
This is not a God who follows the conventional logic of the world.
God doesn’t care about numbers, quantity, bigger, better, attendance figures, etc.
God cares about the one in need
Joyful story for the one sheep who the shepherd seeks out and brings home
Challenging story for the other 99 who are left behind in their “righteousness” and “need no repentance”
Either way, we are represented as sheep and have totally passive roles in the story.
Parable of the lost coin
God is the poor woman with only 10 coins.
About 10 days of wages, so 1 missing coin is lots of money
Again, woman searches diligently for the lost one
Again, coin is inanimate. It’s not a player in this drama. Only God really acts.
After finding the coin, she throws a party
Extravagant love and joy shown by spending more than the amount that she found
This is not wise in the way of the world. It’s foolishness
But God’s ways are not our ways, nor God’s thoughts our thoughts. God’s grace is always bigger than we expect.
Sometimes, we lose sight of this God-centeredness in the Gospel. We lose sight of the fact that the Good News are about God’s extravagant love and mercy.
This is how Ananias felt when God told him that Saul of Tarsus was becoming a Christian. Paul was the worst of sinners and "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence" (1 Tim 1:13). No Christian would come near him (fearing for their lives), but God's grace was strong enough to bring him into the fold. And Ananias had to humble himself enough to change his mind and learn to love Paul as a brother. God had rescued even a sheep as far lost as him!
Sometimes we are like Ananias, like the 99 sheep or the 9 coins, wondering why we are spent for someone else to be found and restored. Sometimes we are the ones who get jealous of God’s grace for someone else.
But in God’s economy, there is no scarcity. There is no need to fear that there won’t be enough. Once we turn to love our neighbor, God can and will provide. God’s grace is the foundation of the universe, and even though we suffer mightily now, we shall overcome through love, through kindness, through our merciful Savior.