Thursday, September 9, 2010

Lost Lambs and Loose Change

Our Lectionary readings for this week are Luke 15:1-10 and 1 Timothy 1:12-17. Jeremiah 4 is also an appointed reading for the day, but due to the special nature of our worship on Sunday (celebrating Broadneck's 28th anniversary--Happy Birthday to us!), we will be focusing in our time together on the New Testament texts, and I will do the same here. To read all of this week's lections, click here.

I'm blogging on Thursday instead of Wednesday this week because there are so many amazing possibilities for these great stories from the Gospel of Luke that it has been hard for me to decide what to write about and what aspect of the stories to explore. This is what I love about Jesus' parables--one commentator I was reading this week described them as more akin to riddles than anything, because every time you read them something else strikes you, and you realize perhaps the story is not as simple and straightforward as you thought--even if it's a story, like these stories of a lost lamb and a lost coin, that can be told using a single (albeit run-on) sentence in the original Greek!

But wait...are these stories really about lost lambs and loose change? an extent. They are stories that would not have been set in motion had that one lamb out of the 100 not wandered off, and that one coin out of the 10 not rolled away.

But perhaps this story is just as much about a reckless shepherd and an exuberant woman. Two things caught me in this read through of these familiar parables, things I hadn't really caught before, that indicated that just focusing on the coin and the lamb might miss the point.

The first indicator is the presumptive question with which Jesus starts his storytelling: "Which of you," Jesus begins, "having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one lost until he finds it?" Maybe the better question, Jesus, would be, "Which of you actually does something like that?" You see, when I had visualized this story before, I had envisioned the shepherd leaving his 99 safely in a nice fenced in field somewhere, or perhaps in a barn-type area; I had never before noticed the word "wilderness" in this description. The wilderness, in biblical language, represented a place of danger, a place of great peril and risk; it would not be leaving the 99 cared for or secure, but totally exposed--this is how committed the shepherd is to finding the lost sheep even if, in such a wild area, the likelyhood that the sheep has even survived its roaming is slim indeed. What kind of shepherd is this--who would take such a reckless risk, just for one sheep? And this is the shepherd the hearers of the story are asked to identify with?
The second indicator is how both of the stories end: with the shepherd/woman calling their friends and neighbors and inviting them to rejoice with them because they've found what they lost. Now, I always pictured (anachronistically) the shepherd or woman picking up the phone and calling their friends to say, "Guess what I found?" so they would have someone to celebrate with them. That makes sense; that might be something we could picture ourselves doing. But to Jesus' audience, that's not what the word "rejoice" would indicate at all; in biblical language, "rejoice with me" would be equivalent to "come have a feast and celebrate with me"--it would be inviting a neighbor to a party you are throwing!

So...let me get this straight...the woman finds one lost coin of only ten that she has, then probably spends more than that coin was worth on a party to celebrate the coin being found? What kind of woman is this, whose joy leads her to do something so illogical?

Most of us are aware enough to realize that it's crazy for God to seek us out--to pursue one lost sheep that is prone to wander, to sweep the house for one small coin that's not worth all that much in the grand scheme of things...but this is a message we still need to hear again and again. To take the parable from this other angle, however...what does it mean that, in telling these stories, Jesus asks his hearers to identify not just with lamb and coin, but with shepherd and sweeping woman--with the people understood in these parables as representing God? What does it mean that Jesus invites us, apparently, to put ourselves in the sandals of the shepherd recklessly, relentlessly seeking that one lost put ourselves in the bare feet of the woman jumping up and down and the discovery of one coin that she will the promptly spend in an exuberant celebration of its return?
These stories are riddles I'll be unpacking for a while. But join us this Sunday as we share the stories of our lives as lost lambs and loose change who have found a place at Broadneck, and explore together our calling to be reckless seekers and exuberant finders as participants in God's community.

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