Luke 15:1-10: Lost and Found

Lost and Found, Sheep and CoinA lost lamb and coin come to us in story form.  So, we lean forward to attend to our Savior’s words.  Little do we grasp how we are the ones getting lost.  For we think He is teaching us what to do.  Don’t we take in these parables as lessons in loveliness?  For if we can only master the moral message, we can grow the kingdom of God!

Such hubris to think these Bible passages are about us.  Oh, they are for us because we are meant to take in their teachings.  Where we go far afield is when we think we are the ones doing the deeds in the parables of Jesus.  Not true.

In His storylines, Jesus weaves a tapestry, showing us how God works in this world.  So many of them begin with, “The Kingdom of heaven is like.”  Not earth.  Though filled with everyday images, they all contain a lightning bolt from above, opening a window, shining down on us the unexpected, mysterious workings of God.

In Luke’s Gospel, we find a complete chapter confronting us with a loss.  First, a sheep wanders away.  Next, a coin is absent.  Last, a son renounces his father, leaves his home, and becomes a prodigal.  So, what brings our Savior to unveil these stories?  “The tax collectors and sinners kept coming to listen to Jesus.  So, the Pharisees and scribes began to murmur.  ‘This man meets with sinners and eats with them.’”

Many believed Jesus to be the prophesied Messiah.  Now, if so, He will fulfill God’s will for Israel and bring in the new age.  Right before their eyes is evidence, at least for the Jewish leadership, of Jesus not being the One, promised from long ago.

The simplest of rabbis is aware he shouldn’t dine with the betrayers of his people, who funnel their money to Rome.  The youngest child is taught the Law, not to consort with the wrong people, like “sinners.”  The writer, St. Luke, is employing a polite euphemism of his day.  For everyone understands he means “prostitutes.”

So, the world’s Redeemer devotes much time welcoming those sorts, eating, talking, and visiting with them.  So unbecoming and the Pharisees, most of all, smolder over this.  For Jesus is closer to them in His theology than any other group in Judaism.  For them, the betrayal is personal.  “This man meets with sinners and eats with them.”

So, out comes the safe story, at first.  Not so fast!  For Jesus always like to wrap a surprise inside His words.  “Consider owning 100 sheep.  Yes, you tend the 100, but one winds up going astray.  Now, wouldn’t you go after the sheep until you find him?”

Well, what’s the answer?  No way!  No one in his right mind, a shepherd with any experience, who discovers one absent, will leave the 99 to the wolf or thief, to go chasing after one.  For only one man is watching the entire group.

No one likes a diminished income, but here, you take your losses.  Forget the rambling sheep, and move on with the 99.  The question comes with a barb, hooking the listener.  “Of course, I’m not risking the flock to chase after a single, meandering sheep!  No one is so stupid.  Perhaps, you aren’t the rabbi most people think you are!”

The Teacher sent from above schools them a bit more.  “So, when you discover the straying sheep, what will you do if you did go after him?”  Here’s what you do—you hoist him on your shoulders.  Don’t miss what Jesus says next, or doesn’t say.

Does the shepherd go back to the 99?  No, he lifts the little woolen one, secures him around his neck and back, and walks to his house.  Of all places, he goes home, not back to the 99.

The sheep on the mountainside are a set-up.  Though one sizable grouping, the one unaccounted for causes us to realize two different groups now exist.  The lost lamb exposes the other, unknown group, revealed when he is no longer with the others.

The lone, separated sheep is the whole mess of humanity, not as we think we may be, but as we are.  The 99, who never become lost, is what we believe we are.  For most of us presume we are doing well, or close enough not to be a problem.

The one missing, now unmasked before all, represents us all.  The lost sheep is our real condition, exposed as the disoriented creature we are.  The 99 is our fallen race in its smugness, thinking we are well enough, wanting no rescue.

No sane shepherd, with an inkling of business sense, risks losing 99 to search for the one.  So, our seeking Savior shows us the nature of God.  For He is only intent on seeking the lost.  The god who tallies up our deeds, based on our righteousness, doesn’t deliver.  The bookkeeper of pluses and minuses, and profits and losses, who inspects to detect if you’re behaving or not, isn’t the real God.  The real God lost His business tracking down the lost sheep, deciding only to locate and find sinners.

“More joy in heaven will ring out over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous who don’t need repentance.”  Such irony!  For since our fall into sin, “No one is righteous, no not one,” as Scripture declares (Romans 3:10).  No child of Adam is above repenting.

So, our Lord unmasks His soul, which focuses on locating the lost, not the person who believes otherwise.  Ponder who goes home to the shepherd’s house.  The 99, who assume others need to turn away from their defects, not them, find themselves to be the lost ones.  For only the wayward one, who repented, returns home.

Oh, those Pharisees, who judge themselves as holy enough on their own.  Why should they turn from their nonexistent sins?  So, unleashed next comes a story about a lost coin.  In this one, the primary person switches from a shepherd to a woman.

Now, if the shepherd lacked sense, check out the old lady.  The account unfolds with her purse with ten coins inside.  Left unsaid is how she learns a coin is gone.  For does she find the money is missing at the store?  No.  At the house.  So, she’s counting her money, day in and day out, to make sure every coin is in its place.

One morning, she gets up, and following her ritual, she checks her coins.  A coin is gone!  So, what will she do?  Crazy as the shepherd, if not more so, she acts, because she stops everything else in her life.  Whatever she planned to do is now on hold, if not canceled.  With a flame, she lights her lamp, and scours all the dark corners, searching and examining.  Under every item, she fixes her eyes, no matter how long, until she regains the disappeared coin.

Tell me, what does the woman do when she locates the missing money?  Ah, Jesus never says.  Oh, we might guess she places the coin back into her purse.  The danger of coming to conclusions before the incarnate Truth-teller finishes.

With the searched-for piece of silver in her hands, she calls her friends and neighbors.  “Rejoice with me, because I found my lost coin!”  Yes, she celebrates with the coin and the others.  For how can you enjoy the lost becoming found if the coin is absent from celebration?  To do so is like commemorating the Lord’s Supper with Jesus missing.

Now, your heart might go out for a little lamb.  Perhaps, he broke his ankle, or he ate a poisonous weed.  A coin is inanimate, empty of life, unable to understand ideas of lost or found.  Still, the coin-counting woman rejoices and hosts a party.

What governs God’s judgment of us isn’t because we find ourselves estranged from Him.  The coin reveals this.  How can a coin be blamed for being lost?  No, our Redeemer recognizes we are born alienated from Him, which is why He comes to rescue us.

These two stories center on Someone who fixates on recovering what became lost.  The Someone is God; the one separated is you.  The truth revealed is a God who will not stop until He finds what He seeks.  The only ones not sought out are the those who think they need no God to come and rescue them.

Let’s pretend you don’t want God as He is.  How He chooses to seek and save doesn’t interest you.  Well, He will not comb the countryside to find you.  For our Lord is a gentleman, forcing Himself on no one.  Faithful to who He is, the Lord searches for the sinner gone astray, not the one who thinks he needs no deliverance.  This truth stands because God forever stands.

Don’t be smug, presuming you are in with God because you suppose so.  This distorted bent within us always keeps in need our Lord’s words of life.  Left on our own, we wander away from our Father above.  The yearnings inside pull us every which way.  So well-worn is this road we tread.  Only Jesus saves.  Whom does He save?  Only somebody who needs finding.

Though you walked away from the Father, when you admit as much in repentance, you are always on the receiving end of His grace.  The Son born of Mary, the eternal Shepherd, flings open the gates to His resplendent realms.  This day, He still does, for such is in His nature, all for you.

Now, if you imagine God smiles on you because of what you do, do not come to His Table.  For you are dealing with Him as someone not needing to repent.  Whenever you do so, you will find judgment, not salvation everlasting.  Not so when you own up to your wandering ways.  Only the lost need saving—and we do, for we are both saint and sinner.  Remember, Jesus dines with sinners.

Though God is perfect and you are not, your seeking Lord still comes to carry You home.  For when you bring nothing but your failings to His Sacred Meal, all is yours.  In the Father’s house, you will rejoice with all the saints and angels.  Amen.

 

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