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A Reflection on Luke 15:1-10 – Of Lost Sheep and a Lost Coin

September 11, 2022
A Gopher tortoise we met at Gulf Shores State Park

Shortly after we moved to Orange Beach, Denise and I decided to go hiking in the Gulf State Park. You might call it going for a walk since there wasn’t any elevation change like we experienced in the past while hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park. What I found intriguing with this friend was how it meticulously searched for and ate grass that it could find. I guess that when you are a tortoise and when you are in a hot and sandy environment it takes time to find something to eat! Our little friend continued its patient and persistent journey and found sustenance.

So, what does this have to do with the Gospel reading for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost? Well, let’s unpack Luke 15:1-10 and find out! Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and had been challenging the crowds who were following him along with the Pharisees and scribes following at a distance. As the fifteenth chapter opens, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus (verse 1). The Pharisees and scribes were getting closer to listen for a very different reason. This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them (verse 2). How dare Jesus hang out with the riffraff of society! We wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with those people!

Jesus knew good and well why he was hanging out with the tax collectors and other sinners instead of hanging out with the religious elite. His message wasn’t for the smug and self-righteous. It was for those who both needed to hear the message and were open to Jesus’ teachings. So, as a response to the judgmental tone of the religious elite, he began telling parables.

The first parable was about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of the sheep is missing and the shepherd goes off in search of that missing sheep. At first the idea sounds crazy. He goes off and leaves ninety-nine of his sheep to fend for themselves in a wilderness where there were plenty of predators to get them. Why didn’t he simply “cut his losses” and keep watch over the ninety-nine. In the military leaders often determine what an acceptable number of losses are when planning for a battle or war. When civilians get caught in the crossfire or are killed when a bomb takes out a target they are often called “collateral damage.” This euphemism along with the calculation of what is an acceptable number of losses in battle works for some until they are the ones being lumped into the category of acceptable loss or collateral damage. However, Jesus didn’t think like that. Everyone was his sibling, created in the image of God. That one sheep was just as important as the ninety-nine who hadn’t wandered off and become lost in the wilderness.

The second parable was about a woman who had ten silver coins but lost one of them. Did she think, oh well, I still have nine coins left, so it’s all good? No, she turned the house upside down until she found it. To put it into context, that coin (a drachmas) was worth about a day’s wage. She had ten days of wages saved up and suddenly, she lost one-tenth of her collection. Some scholars speculate that the ten coins might have been her dowry. That loss was important to her and had a tremendous impact on her, so it was no wonder that she swept and searched the house until she found the coin.

These parables have a message for individuals and for communities of faith. Jesus was telling the people that God is persistent and doesn’t give up on them. The same holds true today. I think back to the many times that I have been “lost in the wilderness.” The wilderness can be circumstantial or a wilderness of my own making. Either way, God has not given up on me even though I may have given up on myself. One of the crosses that I wear when I lead worship is the Good Shepherd Cross. It is a replica of the pectoral cross that Pope Francis wears.

If you look closely at the cross, you can see the shepherd with the one lost sheep and the rest of the flock who had not been lost. Do you notice how the shepherd is carrying the lost sheep around his shoulders? He isn’t “driving the sheep back to the flock with a stick, he is gently carrying the lost and frightened sheep back to the flock. How does the church welcome people to the “flock” or family? I believe that the church is called to reach out to others with the same kind of love and grace which Jesus offers them. The shepherd reminds us that we are called to care about everyone. The woman who lost the coin reminds us that every gift from God we have is precious and should be something to be celebrated. She and the shepherd teach us that each member of this family of God is precious and that we are called to celebrate that with others as we share the love of God with the world.

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