Today’s lesson from the Gospel of Luke (Lk. 15:1019 NRSV) gives us two parables reminding us that God loves everyone, no matter their place in society, the color of their skin, who they are, and what they do. We are loved by God, we are made in the image of God, and we are blessed by God. In these troubled times, it is a wonderful gift.
I used to think, when I was a girl, that I couldn’t go to church because I wasn’t good. The girls I played with went to Sunday School and catechism on Tuesday afternoons, they received First Communion and were confirmed. I stayed home on Sundays watching ‘Davy and Goliath.’ That was my catechism and Sunday School. And it introduced me to the beautiful Lutheran hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God.’ We didn’t go to church for reasons I would learn much, much, later. And it wasn’t until I was an adult that I got the message about God’s love.
A sinner who repents is more welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven than ninety-nine of God’s children who do not need repentance.
It is never too late to turn to God and begin a relationship that will last for an eternity.
This good news was radical and revolutionary when Jesus first spoke these words, and I invite you now to come back with me and hear them.
Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them. The society in which Jesus lived and carried out his ministry from God was hierarchical: you had a place and you stayed in it. Very rarely did you move up or laterally. The Pharisees and Scribes took offense at the tax collectors and the sinners who had joined the crowds to hear Jesus’ teaching – what were these sinners doing with good and righteous people? And because they were present, what did that make Jesus? Well, he responds to criticism by throwing out a parable or two. We know that parables were used extensively by Jesus, and they are short, allegorical stories illustrating a truth or principle. Jesus offered parables that were of everyday life; incidents that anyone in the crowd could relate to and understand. At this time, Jesus tells of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
A shepherd discovers that one of his sheep has gone missing and leaves the rest of the flock out in the field, unprotected, while he searches for the lost one. He searches high and low until he finds and brings it back, rejoicing and inviting friends and family to celebrate with him.
In the parable of the lost coin, a woman sweeps the house and searches for the one coin out of ten that is lost. Her diligence in lighting lamps and sweeping, perhaps looking in every corner, under the tables, beds, and benches is rewarded when she finds the coin. One can imagine how good she felt – you know the feeling when you find the loose change between the cushions of the sofa. Maybe that fifty-nine cents was what you needed to make the exact fare for the bus or train.
To a society where everything is black and white, right and wrong, what the First Century Palestinians and Judeans were hearing was astonishing. A slave was loved as much as a Pharisee, or a rich silk merchant? A Roman soldier? Jesus has taken the rules and flipped them on their heads, daring people to think about this new ideal of relationship, a revolutionary way of thinking.
We look back at this with centuries of interpretation and practicality, yet many of us still struggle with Jesus’ teaching.
Let’s ponder this anew:
“. . . I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Lk. 15:7)
“. . . There is joy in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Lk. 15:10)
Does this mean that God dismisses or ignores the righteous? After all, hasn’t Jesus said there’d be more joy in heaven over that one sinner who confesses than those who lead righteous lives?
We’re creatures with frailties and prone to trip over our mistakes and whatever comes out of our mouths. We have tendencies to think about ourselves and judge others. We were given free will and we tend to misuse it. I can’t think of a day when I didn’t do or say something that I knew was wrong and I said, “Forgive me, Lord!”
My favorite prayer is the Trisagion, which means ‘thrice holy,’ also known the Jesus Prayer. It is simple and to the point:
“Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us (me).”
The form I use adds the verse:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”
The last verse is said to have been inspired by Luke 18:9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – a Parable for another day.
If we do our very best to live a righteous life, one that leads us to live out the Gospel and obeys the New Commandment, we have a place at the table.
When we stumble and fall in moments of weakness, and we confess our sins and do our very best to not repeat our errors, we will also have a place at the table.
It will be a table where everyone is welcome.