RCL Year C Proper 19
Exodus 32:7-14, Psalm 51:1-11, I Timothy 1:12-17, Saint Luke 15:1-10
I can think of five lost things, or groups of things, in the Scriptures today. Most obviously there is the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable. There is also the lost silver coin in the second parable. Less obviously and thirdly, there are the people of Israel in Exodus who wander into being lost by casting a golden calf, betraying the God who had saved them from slavery to the Egyptians. And then there are the two groups in the Gospel following Jesus and, quite separately from each other, are hanging on to every word he utters.
The first of these last two groups are the tax collectors and sinners. By their profession and by their known refusal to obey the religious law of the day, they are outcast. But they vote with their feet, and they draw near to Jesus. They know that to him they are not outcast. They know that to him they are valuable and loved. They know that to him their lives have meaning. Though they remain outcast by society, they have let Jesus find them, like a lost sheep, or a lost coin, or even a lost people. They aren’t as lost as once they were.
And, lastly and pivotally, there are the Pharisees and the scribes, the professionally religious, who know their religion inside and out. They are the ones who follow at a distance looking for any error Jesus might make. The Pharisees are the ones who make a demonstration of following the religious law. The scribes are the lawyers and judges who interpret the religious law. They are at a distance, because Jesus welcomes the tax collectors and the sinners.
And, the Gospel tells us, Jesus addresses his parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin to them, the Pharisees and the scribes. They think they are not lost. They think they uphold and maintain their religion. They think Jesus has nothing of value to say to them.
I hope you see in their rejection of the tax collectors and the sinners, and in their rejection of Jesus himself, they themselves are the lost sheep and the lost coin. They are the very things that the shepherd and the woman have discovered to be missing. Jesus’ parables are told over the heads of the tax collectors and the sinners directly to the Pharisees and the scribes. They are the very ones that the Lord tries to find and that God in heaven seeks to restore.
But I want to impress upon you that nothing could be further from the truth than their self-perception. The Pharisees and the scribes have no conscious need of Jesus. He simply is bad for the business of their religion. And they are watching to protect and to defend their religion and their livelihood.
He brings to their consciousness what to them is unthinkable. He tells them in his own round-about way that they need to be found, too. They are lost, and they need to be found. Will they come around to let him find them?
It’s a good question and one which we should ask ourselves. What do you, and what do I, need to do to be found by him, once and for ever, never to stray again?