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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some Incomplete Thoughts About Making Things Complete

Here are some of my early thoughts and questions about this week’s reading from the Lectionary (Luke 15: 1 – 10).  It’s still early in the week and I don’t know how I will be preaching this material yet.  Still working on that.

All –“all the tax collectors and sinners” were with Jesus.  "All" is an exaggeration – a hyperbole – but a necessary one in the context of the two stories that Jesus is about to tell. 

Tax Collectors and Sinners – a broad category of backsliders, apostates, traitors and reprobates, but Jesus welcomes them.  The “Pharisees and Scribes” grumbled about this, but what else would they do? (At least in the context of the gospels, they’re the ‘bad guys.’) The tax collectors and sinners are “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” who were invited to the dinner after the other banquet guests declined to show up. (Luke 14: 15 – 23).

Would an ANE shepherd really have been so concerned for 1 sheep from his flock of 100?  At what point would he have called it an acceptable loss?  1% ?    This is not a good business model.  This is not prudent.  Indeed, that’s the point: the extravagant recklessness of the shepherd’s search for the one missing sheep.

Wilderness ?  He leaves the 99 in the wilderness?  The wilderness is traditionally the place of danger and demons.  Why would he leave them there?  Isn’t that risky? Is there any connection here to Leviticus 16 and the scapegoat sent out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement?

“Just so,” says Jesus. “I tell you there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.”  John Wesley described this “joy in heaven” as “solemn and festal joy” – but I’m a little suspicious of Wesley anymore.  I don’t think he understood joy. 

If this shepherd is reckless enough to go out searching for one lost sheep while leaving the other 99 in the desert, can you imagine how wild and exuberant his celebration party would be?  Makes the party at the frat house look like a 7 year olds birthday party by comparison.

Or what of a woman?  How often have we missed this – Jesus allows God to be described in female terms.   God is searching and she won’t stop till she’s found what she’s lost.

The coins are drachma (that word is derived from the verb δράσσομαι (drássomai, "to grasp") and were roughly equivalent to the Roman denarius (valued at a day’s wages – Matthew 20:2). How long did she spend searching for this one day’s wage?  It seems like at least a day – so even in finding the one coin, by spending all the time looking for it, she’s lost another one.  But this isn’t about fiscal responsibility…

When she calls her friends and neighbors together to celebrate the finding of this one coin – did she spend more on the party than the coin was actually worth?  Again it’s not about good finances. It’s not about profit /loss.  It’s about the wild – dare we say Irresponsible – searching for what was lost.

It’s about making things complete.  The flock is not complete while 1% is lost.  The number of coins is not complete when 10% is lost.  (And in the next parable that Jesus tells, the family is not complete while 50% of the sons is lost.)

A question:  Why does Luke tell two different versions of what is, essentially, the same story?  Did the historical Jesus tell both at various times?  Or is it the result of the malleable memories?    

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