Sermon for Pentecost 14 2019

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The problem with parables is that they meant a lot to the people to whom Jesus first told them, but they may (at least initially) mean less to us. This is because our context is so different from that of a first century Jew in Palestine. We hear the parable of the lost sheep, and probably think the shepherd rather daft. He’s still got ninety-nine sheep safe at home, and the dangers inherent in searching for the one lost sheep are likely not worth the risk. The woman who’s lost one of her ten coins might seem a little more believable to us, at least from a mathematical point of view. She’s lost a tenth of her wealth to the shepherd’s one-hundredth. Even so, calling the neighbors over to celebrate finding one measly coin that was in one’s house the whole time seems like overkill.

Yet, if we were to place ourselves in the shoes of Jesus’ first century listeners, these parables would have made perfect sense. A conscientious shepherd would have been sorely grieved by the loss of one sheep and would have put himself in harms way to seek it out. The modern language of “satisfactory percentage” and “acceptable loss” would have been foreign to the first century shepherd, because if he were a good shepherd, his sheep would not be considered a mere commodity, but rather an extension of himself. Thus, his grief upon losing the sheep and his great joy upon finding it would have been natural. It would have been as if he had lost and found a missing part of himself.

Likewise, the woman with the lost coin can be understood to have found something more than a bagatelle. Objectively, one silver coin, or drachma wasn’t worth that much. It was one day’s wage for a laborer. Additionally, those who lived remember the 2008 crash and might see the loss of a tenth of one’s wealth as less than catastrophic. Some of us, I’m sure, lost a great deal more in investments during that period; and at least you can write those losses off come tax time, right?

Well, we get a distorted view of the plight of the woman in the parable if we view he through that modern, middle class lens. For that matter, we’d get a distorted view of contemporary poverty were we to do so. I can’t tell you how often people come into my office—people who live on the very edge of penury in Findlay, Ohio in 2019—for whom five or ten bucks means enough food to get on. It’s a trifling amount of money to me, but it’s salvation for some.

So, in both parables we’re dealing with a seemingly insignificant object, whose inherent worth is only realized through the grief of the one who loses it and his or her joy upon finding it.

Now, the second, even more important way we might get these parables is in misidentifying their protagonists, where the lost object is assumed to be God and the human soul its seeker.

But Jesus’ words make it rather explicit that we are not the shepherd or the woman; God is. We don’t need to worry so much about “finding Jesus”, because he’s the one who invariably finds us. When we like sheep have gone astray, Christ the Good Shepherd grieves the loss and then strikes out into the wilderness to take us back, his finding us restoring the very joy of God. When we like the coin fall through some crack in the floorboard of our existence, God, like the woman in the parable, will tear up the house, will turn it over if he needs to in order to find us.

You see, God might not be as immovable and implacable as we think. He’s certainly got a Plan and a Will, He’s certainly perfect in strength and virtue, but He can also feel tremendous sadness. God is love, and when love goes unrequited, the response is grief. When we are not in His presence, when we wander lost through the wilderness of self-willed depredation, which is the state of sin, we grieve God’s heart of love.

The Good News is that He does not then disown us. He seeks us out. He will and has searched for us as far as the depths of Hell itself; and he has found us, he is still finding us, and he will find us at last. And his grief, being once as sharp as a sword piercing His breast, will at last be transformed into greater joy than we can imagine. The whole host of heaven will rejoice in our having been found, and we shall join with them in praising the God whom we didn’t presume to seek out, but who found us when we most needed him.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.