March 7, 2021
Luke 15: 1-32
In today’s gospel passage from Luke, Jesus and the disciples are en route to Jerusalem. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus has continued this ministry in the region … despite the warning that Herod was out to kill him.
Jesus continues to call on the people to repent their ways so that the kingdom will come closer to them.
Now, some Pharisees and scribes on the edge of the crowd are complaining … no surprise there … they’re complaining that Jesus welcomes less-desirable elements … sinners and tax collectors to hear his words and even share meals with them.
To the Pharisees and scribes, these are people who are lost causes and it’s better for Jesus to focus his attention on those who are doing all the right things … whose piety … they believe … makes them worthy of God’s love, blessings and full attention.
In response, Jesus tells the complainers a trio of parables … one about the shepherd who left a herd of 99 sheep to locate a single lost sheep,
… one about a woman who had 10 coins and searches for the one coin that fell in the darkened room,
… and finally one about a son who makes unreasonable demands of his father, leaves and then returns to a rejoicing father and a grumbling older brother.
In the end, each parable concludes with a celebration that those who have been lost are now found.
The Pharisees and scribes likely saw themselves as the 99 sheep … 99 righteous persons, if you prefer … the nine coins … or the older brother. In fact, their complaints to Jesus makes the Pharisees and scribes seem much like the grumbling brother.
Scholar Richard Vinson sums up these parables in nine words:
“The shepherd carries, the mother searches and the father clothes.”
“The shepherd carries … the mother searches … the father clothes.”
First mercy comes, then intercession and then reconciliation. … the Saviour rescues, the church intercedes, the Creator reconciles and repentance is the foundational moment for each of these complementary acts.
In sharing these parables, Jesus calls on the Pharisees and scribes to recognize their hypocrisy … to recognize their own lostness … to reorient their lives … and to turn toward a more inclusive, welcoming nature.
I’d like to spend a few moments this morning with the parable of the lost son.
The emphasis usually is placed on the younger son … the one who wants his inheritance even though his father is still alive and … traditionally … the inheritance goes to the eldest son.
Still, the father gives in to the younger son’s request and the son takes the inheritance and the other possessions, leaves for another country … squanders all he has received and returns home destitute and contrite.
His father celebrates his son’s return, while the elder son … the one who remained and did everything he was expected to do … isn’t even invited to the celebration … he has to be told what’s going on by a slave.
No wonder he becomes angry and resentful because of the love his father lavishes on his brother.
By following tradition and doing what was expected, the elder son believes he is more entitled than his little brother. The elder brother is in danger of becoming lost.
His father tells the eldest son that nothing is being taken away from him … the love shown for one doesn’t diminish the love shown for the other.
We aren’t told if his father’s words manage to reorient him to the new reality or if the eldest son goes to the celebration after all or if his resentment leads to his being lost to the family or to the community.
It’s clear … though … that he has been disoriented by his father’s decisions to break with tradition and extravagantly love his son in unexpected ways.
Lent is a time of re-orientation.
It is a time when we take note of where we are in our faith journeys … when look around recognize the loss within and around us.
It is when we check our compasses and making sure that we in tune with living a faith-filled life that God’s expects.
Lent is a season of repentance … when we clear away the dead brush in our lives … the things that get in the heart’s way … the things that block our vision and diminish our sense of community … that keep us from fully welcoming and embracing those who have been lost.
If our heart serves as a compass for the journey, then this is a time when we ensure it can direct us to those who are in danger of being left behind … forgotten … or lost.
Anglican pastor and author Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote that true repentance “calls individuals to take responsibility for what is wrong with the world … beginning with what is wrong with them … and to join with other people who are dedicated to turning things around. … True repentance calls whole communities to engage in the work of repair and reconciliation without ever forgetting their own culpability for the way things are.”
Lent is a time when we can guage our repentance worth?
In a normal year … one not scarred by a pandemic … we would have entered the Lenten season by imposing an ashen cross on our foreheads … a cross, by the way, that would have been placed in roughly the same spot as our baptismal cross.
I wonder how long those ashen crosses remain visible after they are imposed … are we in a rush to wash them away as soon as we get home? How long do we reflect upon what we are called to do and be? I wonder how much we embrace the language of repentance … if the things we have claimed have been done or not done remain done or avoided after we leave the service and continue on with our daily lives.
Perhaps we should consider what repentance looks like?
In today’s parable the sheep didn’t wander back, the coin didn’t roll back … repentance means being claimed. Repentance is a god thing … it means asking what god wants of us?
Jesus wants the people in the crowd … and us … to see the absolute driven desire of God to form and be in relationship with us.
Repentance starts with the breaking through by the one who cares so much … who loves so much … who continually reminds us that we are loved … that we are recipients of God’s gift of grace and always called to carry, to search and to clothe the lost.
And when the lost are found, then that is cause to celebrate!