Old Testament: Jeremiah (4:11-12, 22-28)
At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse— a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them. “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled. I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger. For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.
The Response: Psalm 14
1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.
3 Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 See how they tremble with fear, *
because God is in the company of the righteous.
6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
but the Lord is their refuge.
7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.
The Letter of Paul to Timothy (1:12-17)
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel: Luke (15:1-10)
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Communication necessarily involves interpretation. There is simply no way around it. Everything that we say or write or communicate in any other way is inevitably formed by our own time and culture and understanding and experience and perspective. Try as we may, we cannot be completely objective.
Especially during an election year, we are accustomed to hearing that the media present an unbalanced view of events. One major news network was established by a billionaire specifically to present his particular point of view on the news; he didn’t intend it to be objective. The other news organizations at least try, some more successfully than others, to make a genuinely balanced and objective presentation; but some subjectivity inevitably comes into play.
Interpretation comes into play even in the telling of the gospel stories. There is a perceivable perspective to each of our four canonical gospels. Each has its own point of view.
Luke’s version, from which most of our Sunday readings are taken this year, presents, for example, a strong emphasis on repentance and conversion. Sometimes, that particular stress appears in a rather unconvincing context. Today’s gospel reading is a good example of that.
Luke prefaces a set of three parables, two of which we heard today, with a summary context: “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable.” He places these stories, which are usually seen as being about a lost sheep and a lost coin, within his message of repentance and forgiveness.
The problem is that that is not at all what Jesus’ original audience would have heard. Nor does it even make sense with the examples that Jesus gives. The sheep in the first parable does not “repent.” While I don’t pretend to know anything about sheep psychology, I feel safe in saying that sheep don’t wrestle with moral issues. This particular sheep did not repent and return, with a chastened conscience, to the shepherd, apologizing for wandering off. The only reason it came back was that the shepherd went and found it, and then picked it up and carried it back, whether it wanted to go or not. And as for the second parable, the one about the ten coins, I’m not sure even how to think about a coin “repenting.”
As Amy-Jill Levine (Short Stories by Jesus) points out, even the titles that we usually give to these two stories, “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and “The Parable of the Lost Coin,” are subjective interpretations of the parables, and interpretations that miss the point of the stories if we consider them by themselves, outside of Luke’s imposed context. The emphasis in the parables and Jesus’ focus in relating them is not on the sheep or the coin, but on the two people involved. They are stories about a shepherd who lost a sheep and about a woman who lost a valuable coin.