Thursday, 12 September 2013

Who is the stray?

The 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Year C
Luke 15:1-10

Over the years I have lost any number of clerical collars, Bic lighters, pens and pocket knives.  Some of them have gone overboard (the lighters falling from shirt pockets and the knives knocked out of my hand while cutting lines) but some of these have just disappeared into the ether.  They're all in unknown places because I never really bothered to look for them or, frankly, didn't care if they were lost because I could always get another one along the way.   

They were lost, or remained lost, because I just didn't care.

The Pharisees in this Sunday's Gospel reading had made their peace with the fact that a segment of the population was lost - outside the circle of righteousness.  And they grew steadily more disappointed with Jesus.   Unlike them, he didn't seem interested in consolidating the gains of Judaism in the lives of people who believed they were already on the road to righteousness. Rather than associate with the seriously religious, Jesus demonstrated a penchant for gathering around himself a community of people he referred to as the lost sheep of the house of Israel: the marginally religious, tax collectors and low lifes.  To make matters worse, Jesus seemed reasonably comfortable in the presence of such folk. The Pharisees grumbled about this in the hearing of Jesus' disciples.

Jesus then tells a story about two individuals who would not be satisfied until they had restored a lost element - the one missing coin out of ten and the one missing sheep out of a hundred - individuals for whom that missing portion was a painful reality.  They would search for the one even if that meant leaving to the side, for a while, the sheep who had not strayed.  The lost are like this he said: they are valuable and worth the energy of a search.  And God is like this: he will not make peace with the loss of his creatures.  What sort of Shepherd would?

That's all I wanted to say.  Among the list of "things I wish I'd said but didn't" has to be a line from Sarah Dylan Breuer's lectionary blog:

"If one sheep is with the shepherd and ninety-nine aren't, who's really the stray?"