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 New Testament: 1 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. Mike Kreutzer
All communication includes interpretation. There is simply no way around it. Those who try to approach scripture literally, for example, claiming that they are “taking it as it is without interpretation,” are contradicting themselves; because choosing to try to take something literally is itself one form of interpretation – and not usually a very good one. Everything that we say or write or communicate in any other way is necessarily shaped by our own time and culture and experience and understanding and perspective. Try as we may, none of us can be completely objective, free from all the many factors that can shape our understanding and our communication.
Interpretation manifests itself not only in the way that we approach the gospel stories, but even in the way that the four evangelists approach them. Each of our four canonical gospels has its own unique perspective, its own unique set of emphases. Their authors have consciously or unconsciously interpreted and re-shaped the spoken tradition that they have received, the stories about and the teachings of Jesus, to serve their own theological purposes.
St. Luke, for example, from whom most of our Sunday gospel readings are taken this year, certainly does that. We saw that difference early this year when we heard Luke’s version of the beatitudes, which differ greatly from Matthew’s version. We encountered it again this summer when our gospel included Luke’s form of the Lord’s Prayer, which is significantly different from Matthew’s form. And we find that process taking place again today with the two parables included in our gospel reading.
One of Luke’s main themes throughout his gospel is a call to repentance and conversion. Considering that emphasis, it is no surprise that he presents these two stories as being about sinners who repent. That is one way of employing these brief narratives: to try to use them to illustrate the message that Luke wanted to get across.
But, if we look at these stories by themselves, without Luke’s introduction, and think about what Jesus’ original audience (or audiences) would have heard in them, it is obvious that the analogy just doesn’t hold up. The sheep in the first story obviously did not repent and decide to go back to the shepherd – if sheep even can repent. And no one could seriously think that the coin in the second parable repented for getting itself lost and decided to let the woman find it. But if that was not the way that the people who originally heard Jesus tell these stories would have interpreted them, what might these short parables have meant to them?
If we take a closer look at them, one of the first things that we are likely to notice is that the so-called “traditional” names for them put the emphasis in the wrong place. They are not parables about a lost sheep or a lost coin. They are parables about a shepherd who lost a sheep and a woman who lost a valuable coin. The human beings in the parables are the focus.
These two people, not the sheep or the coin, are to blame for the loss. And the stories focus on what they do when they realize that they have lost something of great value. First of all, they take time to notice that they have lost something, something important. Then, they expend whatever time and effort is necessary to find it and to bring it back. And finally, they celebrate, realizing that the flock of sheep or the treasury of coins had not been complete – maybe that they themselves had not been complete – as long as even one was missing. They notice. They seek and find. They celebrate.
First of all, they took time to notice. The woman probably had to count her silver pieces to know that she had lost one. A mere glance at a stack or a pile of coins sitting on a dresser probably would not have been sufficient for her to know whether there were nine or ten of them in the pile. And if the man were looking at a large flock of sheep, he would have had to count them in some orderly way to know whether there were 99 or 100 of them there. Especially when you have so much, as the two of them did, it’s not easy to notice that you have lost something or someone unless you pay attention and maybe take the time to count.
I wonder if we take time to notice what we might have lost in our lives. What or whom have you lost in your life? Did you even notice when it happened? And, when you did notice, what were you willing to do to get them back?
Was there an argument, or maybe a series of arguments, that you once had with another member of your family or with someone whom you once considered to be a close friend, that drove a wedge between the two of you? Or did the two of you just get so busy with other things, other concerns, that you gradually drifted apart; and, before you realized it, the bond that had joined the two of you together had simply melted away?
Or was there some thing that you lost in your life, perhaps something that was once important to you? Was it a commitment to nourish your relationship with your spouse, with your children, or with your parents; it was a big priority for you, but then career demands or outside interests kind of took over, and you lost that central focus? Did you lose your sense of what is most important in life in general, probably not all at one time but just gradually over the years? Did you at one time determine to use your time, your resources, and your energy in serving those in-need in your local community; but then you kept putting it off until later, a “later” that never came?
There are multiple ways that we can enter into these two parables. We can all identify, for example, with the lost sheep or the lost coin. As the book of Isaiah (53:6) puts it: “all we like sheep have gone astray.” We have all been lost in life in one way or another. But God noticed. And God gave everything in order to find us and bring us back: even God’s only Son.
But we can also identify, and need to identify, with the two people in Jesus’ parables. What or whom have you lost in your life? Did you even notice? And if you did, what are you willing to do to bring the lost back?