That which was lost is found
Deut. 6: 4-9, 16-end
Luke 15: 1-10
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Some times I really wish I could travel back through time, just to be able to see for myself what was going on at the time, and the circumstances behind tonight’s gospel reading is one of those occasions. We are told that all the tax collectors and sinners drew near to Him to hear Him and that this scandalised the Pharisees and the scribes. But we are not told where this meeting took place. Had Jesus gone to the tax collectors, or had they come to him? We do know that tax collectors were regarded at the time as worse than common thieves, and for good reason, they were regarded as parasites, they grew rich at the expense of the misery of the people that they preyed on. They were certainly not people to be associated with by God fearing people, and whatever else they were the Pharisees and scribes were God fearing people, the trouble was they were also hypocrites.
If Jesus was with us today to preach these same parables where would he choose to preach; who would be the audience and to whom would the lesson be directed? So lets try and put this event into today’s context. I don’t think Jesus would choose to go and preach to the ‘Inland Revenue’, they are far too honest and upstanding citizens to cause the kind of reaction that he got from the God fearing Pharisees and scribes.
We have to ask ourselves this question; what would be our reaction today if it was Jesus stood at this lectern, preaching to us, and our church was invaded by the very dregs of our society, drug dealers, thugs, pimps and loan sharks all eager to hear Jesus preach. If the answer is that we would be shocked and offended, then the lesson that Jesus directed to the Pharisees and scribes he would be directing at us. So let’s look a little closer at the two parables that we heard in the gospel reading and search for that important lesson.
At first glance the parable stories seem a lot to do about nothing, why make such a fuss over the loss of a single coin or one sheep out of a flock of one hundred. The answer is these were not trivial matters to the audience at the time. Take the story of the coin. When a Jewish woman married, in Jesus’ time, she was given a dowry in the form of ten silver coins, which she wore on her forehead on a band. It was very easy for a husband to stand up in the presence of witnesses and divorce his wife, even for something as trivial as burning his supper, which would leave her penniless except for the ten coins on her forehead. In those days only ten percent of the population lived to be over forty five, so even if she was not divorced it was very likely she would become a widow. Then those ten coins became vital to her survival – without them she would probably starve. So if one was lost, it was not trivial, it was a very serious matter. When Jesus told the parable of the Lost Coin, his audience will have understood at once that the small coin, which might seem unimportant to us, was vitally important to the woman that had lost it. She had swept every corner of her room until she had found it. The she had run to tell the neighbours, so that they could share her joy because what had been lost was now found.
Like the parables that come before and after it, the story of the Lost Coin is a story of the importance to some people of what may seem relatively unimportant to others. The parable itself gets a bit lost because it’s sandwiched between the much better known parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost, or Prodigal Son as it is usually called. What is the value of one lost sheep, compared to the ninety nine that were safe? But the shepherd went to look for the sheep because he loved it. What’s the importance of a wastrel who comes begging? Yet the father loved the prodigal because he was his son. The sheep, the son, the coin might seem unimportant to other people, but to those who had lost them, they were the most important thing in the world.
Jesus told all three parables to teach a single lesson: that those people who seem unimportant to others are precious to God. So don’t let’s fall into the trap and look down our noses at the outcasts of our society as did the God fearing Pharisees and scribes. Sinners and Gentiles were regarded as beneath contempt by them, but never mind that said Jesus; they are precious to God, and I have come to save them. By saying this Jesus may have been hinting that nobody’s irredeemably lost to God. God is too big to be confined within the narrow confines of our social prejudice, that’s fantastic news to any sinner. It’s certainly good news to me!
To all who fall short Jesus says never mind, you are precious to God and I have come to save you. You are as precious to God as the one lost sheep is to the shepherd, as the one lost coin is to the widow, as the one lost son is to the loving father. Don’t despair! I have come to earth to search for you. You may be lost now, but I’ll stop at nothing till I find you. Jesus is saying that to all of us personally, but not only to us here tonight, he is saying it to all the lost souls outside these church walls who wander in the darkness of their lives. So Jesus is telling us we have to show that same love that he shows to us, to the very dregs of our society, the drug dealers, the thugs, the pimps and the loan sharks because they are as precious to God as the lost coin was to the poor widow; Jesus came to earth to look for them as well as us. If they are that important to Jesus, we who claim to be his followers can’t ignore them and become no better than the Pharisees and scribes – they must be precious to us too.