Just about everyone loves a party. One of the most difficult tasks when you’re hosting is deciding who will be on the guest list.
So much of Luke’s gospel is about who’s in and who’s out. And, oh my, in that culture where eating together was a cultural boon or ban, Jesus was always treading the line between the acceptable and unacceptable. Or just jumping right over it.
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.’ [from Luke 15]
The people who thought the rabbi ought to be partying with them, or at least with their kind, just seemed to be upset much of the time. There was a certain decorum to maintain. A certain division of the religious and social classes. There were those who were holy, and those who were not. Jesus, as a rabbi and an observant Jew, ought to have belonged in the “those who were holy” class. But he was often found partying with those who belonged in the “those who were not” group. Tax collectors were the ones who were often rightly accused of stealing from the people. They could charge pretty much what they wanted. And sinners could be anything from murderers to prostitutes to those who weren’t attending synagogue regularly.
We people of faith tend to divide people into the groups of the worthy and the unworthy. And, how interesting that those we consider to be the worthy are the ones who are most like us. They look like us, pray like us, speak our language, think our theology, come from our country. Those who are not worthy are those who look, speak, act, pray, think differently. If we are Republicans, they are Democrats. If we are liberal, they are conservative. If we are white, they are not. If we are Americans, they are Iraqis or Mexicans or French, refugees or immigrants.
Those people we think aren’t worthy—they are the ones we need to picture partying with Jesus. And you and I are the ones criticizing.
Jesus hears our criticism and responds with 3 parables. The first 2 are rather brief, and they are included in our reading today.
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 neighbours, 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 people 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 neighbours, 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.’
One sheep in a hundred—is it really that important? The coin may refer to a bridal headdress which sometimes contained 10 drachmas—not valuable coins but perhaps of much sentimental value.
Both of these people—the shepherd and the woman (stand-ins for God, of course)—are going to a great deal of trouble to find something that isn’t worth very much to anyone else. Why? That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To God, there is no such thing as a person with no value. It’s a direct slam at those who criticized him for hanging with the unworthy.
Then, after the shepherd finds a lost sheep and the woman finds her lost coin, they call all their friends together and have a party. Now that sounds like a pretty sorry excuse for a party to me. “Hey, I found a quarter! Come on over and bring some chips and salsa, and I’ll make a pitcher of margaritas!”
But Jesus knows differently. Each one, each one, is cause for celebration. The imprint of the Eternal is upon her. He carries God within. And whenever any single one is set aside for any reason, God seeks diligently until that one is restored and brought home again.
And then God’s going to throw a party, to which all will be invited.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier