On Sheep, Coins, and Being Lost

Luke 15:1-10 – The 17th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, September 11, 2016

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

lambAfter Jesus spun the story about the solitary sheep that wandered away, and after Jesus coined a yarn about a woman searching for missing silver, Luke—and only Luke—invited one of the Bible’s most famous dysfunctional families onto center stage.

Ah, the parable of the “Prodigal Son.”

But, like this week’s formal lectionary readings, I won’t dwell on that familiar account. Nonetheless, it can’t be totally ignored since it immediately followed two shorter parables, expanding on their themes with memorable characters: a generous father, his greedy younger son, and the serious—and angry—older son. Luke’s chapter 15 is a trinity of tales of the lost and found.

And yet isn’t this chapter even more about those who hear (or read) these narratives and wonder if it matters to them?

In Luke, there are three groups of listeners.

The first are the “tax collectors and sinners” that hear Jesus’ story and smile or frown, nod or shake their heads, but hardly recall anything about sheep or coins by their next meal.

The second are the “tax collectors and sinners” who listen to Jesus and everything will change.

The third group includes the usual suspects of the “Pharisees and legal experts.” They grumble about Jesus. He’s a loser. He prattles on about meaningless subjects. He should find a real job.

Those in the third group are like the Trump voters chanting that Clinton should be “locked up.” They are the Clinton voters dismissing Trump as a bully and buffoon. Intransigent, these two sides of the same coin can’t (or won’t) learn anything from another that doesn’t conform to their fixed worldview. The third group is also the folks in the pews that mutter a version of the seven last words preventing new ideas in church: we’ve never done it that way before. Continue reading →