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?…
“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?…
Finally, Jesus seems to be laying off the guilt trip this week. For the past couples weeks, Jesus has been giving us a hard time. Two weeks ago he was criticizing our sense of self-importance. Last week it was our holding on to possessions, and how they hold on to us.
Today, we hear two familiar parables. The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. They are connected to a third, the parable of the Prodigal Son, which we heard in Lent. And it is nice to hear something that sounds a little more Jesus-y. A little less Jesus the critic and little more of the feel good Jesus, the hopeful Jesus.
The experience of being lost and being found is something we can all identify with. We have all been lost or have lost something. We have been found or have found something or someone. Being found is a joyful feeling, finding that lost thing is a relief. And as that familiar song says, “I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.” We are deeply connected in faith to the idea of the lost being found. When Jesus talks about finding lost things, it is something that we feel down in our souls, in the very core of our being.
Jesus is talking to a varied group of listeners. Tax collectors and sinners, or more appropriately, debtors. The people who collected the money and the people who owed the money, along with the Pharisees and scribes, religious authorities. Upon hearing their grumbling about the company that he keeps, Jesus offers these first two of three parables.
A shepherd loses a sheep. One lost from the flock of 100. So he leaves the 99 in order to the find the one. Some might call it dedication, others might say irresponsible. But he finds the sheep and celebrates.
A woman loses one of her coins. A silver coin or day’s wage. She tears apart the house to find it and then throws a party. A lot of effort for just one coin, but she finds it and celebrates.
The point is made. The pharisees and the scribes might be grumbling about the presence of tax collectors and sinners, but lost things, lost people are kind of God’s thing. And yet, the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes does point us to a problem that we often seem to share. No matter how hopeful and feel good Jesus gets, we find reasons to grumble.
The Pharisees and scribes show us our own complicated relationship with the idea and experience of being lost.
I can remember those moments that stick in my memory from childhood. Wandering the aisles of the grocery store or the clothing racks of the department store, when my mother disappeared from sight. I was never lost for more than a few seconds or minutes, but the fear that so quickly sets in can be paralysing. It is the same for being lost in an unfamiliar city, or hiking through the mountains and leaving the trail only being unable to make your way back.
But perhaps, it isn’t just being physically lost. It is losing that job, losing that relationship, losing that sense of freedom because of illness or disability. Or maybe it is just feeling lost in life, unable to gather your sense of self enough to feel grounded and secure.
Being lost is terrifying, unsettling, debilitating. And when we are lost, or when we feel like we have lost out, we are quick to blame those around us. The map maker, or GPS company or city planners. The company we used to work for, the government, the economy, our ex, the disease or accident. Or maybe just the whole world seems to be at fault.
Yet, there has been a strange attitude that our world has been exposed to lately. The attitude that brings us Trump or Brexit or Canadian Values Screening. When others are lost, we are quick to blame the lost for their problems. Those people don’t need to come here and take our jobs. That person should have had the will-power to resist addiction. If he just tried a little harder at work. If she just gave him another chance. If they had taken better care of themselves, maybe they wouldn’t have gotten sick.
When we are lost, it is someone else’s fault. When someone else is lost, it is their own fault.
Being lost is a complicated experience indeed.
Some of your may remember all the way back to Lent and the story of the Prodigal Son. You may remember that the titles of parables are not what Jesus’ named them. The titles are what we, the church over the centuries, have named Jesus’ stories.
And the parable that we call The Prodigal Son is called by another name by the Eastern Orthodox. They call it the parable of the Loving Father.
And how we name the parable shows us which part we think is most important.
The parable of The Prodigal Son is about a spoiled brat of a son who spends his inheritance on partying, only to have to return home, hand in hand. It almost sounds like a cautionary tale!
But the parable of The Loving Father, well that is about a father who welcomes his lost son home with open arms.
Hear the difference?
When these three parables are placed side by side by side, the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin and Prodigal Son, we see that that the lost things have little to do with each other. It is hard to see the common thread between a sheep, a coin and a son.
Yet, when we compare the Shepherd, the Woman and the Father… each goes and seeks out the lost. The Shepherd leaves the 99 to find the 1. The woman turns her house inside out to find the coin. And the Father runs to greet his son while his son is still far off.
Each goes and seeks the lost. And then when the lost has been found, each celebrates. The Shepherd rejoices with his friends. The Woman throws a party for a coin. The Father slays the fatted calf for his son that was lost and now is found.
We name the parables after the lost things because we think the lost things are the most important parts of the story.
But just maybe Jesus isn’t making a point about what is lost, but instead who does the finding.
Maybe the parables should be named the Caring Shepherd, the Joyful Woman, the Loving Father.
Maybe Jesus is trying to make a point about just who is finding us.
The Pharisees and scribes want to blame the lost for being lost. We have a complicated relationship with the idea of being lost. We would blame everyone and anyone else when we feel lost, but anyone else who is lost has only themselves to blame.
Yet in the midst of misread maps and failing GPS, in the midst of lost jobs, lost loves and lost health… in the midst of all the things and people that are lost in our world.
Jesus is talking about being found.
Jesus is talking about who is doing the finding.
Jesus is talking about how God goes to extraordinary lengths to find lost things and people.
Jesus is talking about all those people that we are quick to label as lost,
tax collectors and sinners,
those who owe debts and those who collect,
those whose maps have led them astray in life,
those who know the loss of brokenness and suffering,
those who have no other place where they belong,
Jesus is talking about how all those people are the ones who God finds.
Jesus is talking about how all those people are us.
And in fact, when Jesus tells these parables again here today, Jesus tell us that no matter how lost we may feel in life, no matter much we focus on the lost things and the lost people, that the point of this story is being found. Jesus tells these parables about God who finds.
Jesus says today, that here, where lost sinners gather together to repent… that here we are the most found we can be.
Because our finding God has found us, in the forgiving words of grace, in the finding waters of baptism, in celebrating feast of bread and wine.
Jesus is telling feel good, hopeful parables today. Parables that we may think are about lost things and lost people. But parables that are really about Caring Shepherds, Joyful Women and Finding Gods.
3 thoughts on “The Lost Sheep & Lost Coin vs Caring Shepherd & Joyful Woman”
I’m grateful for another Gospel inspired message from you. In a culture where we are quick to blame others when we are lost and blame the lost for their predicament, I pray for a renewed Church with Caring Shepherds, Joyful Women and Finding Gods. At the moment I think I am living in the era of The Lost Church. Craig