Scripture Readings: Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-10, 1 Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10
In our gospel reading today, we have two parables of Jesus about things that are lost. They’re very similar stories, with a person losing something, searching for it, finding it, and finally celebrating its return.
In the first, we have a shepherd who is caring for his flock. One of his sheep becomes lost, and so he leaves the rest of the flock to search for this one lost sheep. When he finds it, he returns it to the herd and then has a party to celebrate when he returns home.
In the second, we have a woman who has lost one of ten silver coins. She searches her house from top to bottom, looking for this lost coin; when she finds it, she gathers all her friends and throws a party of celebration.
In both stories, the searcher overreacts. A sheep is valuable, sure, but not more valuable than the rest of the flock. It is one among many, and not the most valuable livestock. And the silver coin the woman is searching for was worth about a day’s wages for a laborer, so this is a decent sum but not anything extravagant. Neither of them are searching for a priceless pearl, in other words. And yet both the shepherd and the woman search tirelessly to find what they’ve lost, and when they find it they throw huge parties. Again, this is kind of like calling all my friends over to have a party because I found that birthday check that I lost last month. It seems excessive.
But they both loved what they were searching for. Because, of course, these aren’t really stories about shepherds and women. These are stories about God’s persistent love for us, a love which is tireless until we are found. And when we are found, there is celebration and joy! There is the heavenly equivalent of cake and streamers and balloons. God is overjoyed when we are found.
It’s worth noticing that in these stories, God is the seeker, not us. A coin is… well, a coin; it is certainly not going to roll out from under the couch when it realizes that the woman is looking for it. No, she has to come and find it. And when a sheep is separated from its flock, it will not search them out; instead, it will freeze up with fear: it will curl up in the most hidden, out-of-the-way place it can find and stay there until its herd finds it again–or, in this case, its shepherd. If we’re the coin and we’re the sheep, then God finds us, and brings us home when we’re utterly incapable of finding God for ourselves.
And let’s also look at the framing of this story. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law–that is, the religious elite, who were highly trained and deeply knowledgeable men–see the other people who come to hear Jesus. And these are not respectable people–they are tax collectors and sinners, people who don’t keep the law, people who have made all sorts of mistakes, often people who were hated or shunned by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees and the teachers, then, are upset: these aren’t respectable people, these aren’t the sorts of people who should be hanging out with a rabbi and a miracle worker. And neither should Jesus be welcoming them into the fold and eating meals with them and teaching them.
And when Jesus hears what the Pharisees and teachers have been saying, He tells these parables. These are stories of the lost being found and the joy that brings. It isn’t your place to say who’s in and out, He is saying. That is God’s place; God is the one who finds us. All we can do is rejoice at everyone that God finds. Celebrate! Leave all that judgment behind. As we read earlier, “the grace of our Lord overflowed” (1 Timothy 1:14) and is still overflowing, for each and every one of us.
And so let us rejoice at God’s continued, overflowing grace for us and for everyone. We are found; we are all found.
Alleluia, and Amen.