Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost and Found (Lent 4 Year C)

Joshua 5: 9-12

Psalm 32

2 Corinthians 5: 16-21

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32

On reflection, I wish that today’s gospel reading had covered the whole chapter and not jumped from verse three to verse eleven. Then we would have seen the story as part of a whole series of ‘lost and found’ stories.

So I want to briefly cast a glance at all three of the ‘lost and found’ stories. (The shepherd with the lost sheep, the woman with the lost coin and the parent with the lost child.) These stories were told as a response to the grumbling that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.

‘Eating with them’ is significant. This is more than just accepting sinners, this is a sign of real friendship. In almost every culture inviting people into your home, sharing food and eating with them is a sign of intimacy and true friendship.

In these stories Jesus is showing the value of lost things. Jesus is revealing the seeking and compassionate heart of God. A picture of God as represented by a shepherd, a woman and a father.

Even the order the stories are placed in is interesting. They seem to subvert the expected positioning. First it is 1:100, then 1:10 and then 1:2. Surely we would have expected it the other way round, ending with the message that even one out of a hundred is important. Even one in a hundred is worthy of care and consideration.

I want to look, firstly, at the man with two sons. (Two sons perhaps representing the two groups of people mentioned at the outset of the chapter — tax-collectors & sinners and Pharisees & scribes).

Right at the beginning of the story the reader (or listener) is alerted to something unusual about this story. The man divided his property amongst his two sons. Surely that wasn’t quite right. Surely the elder son was entitled to more (a double portion at the very least). Right here at the outset of the story is something that will challenge and need careful consideration. This is pointing to a generosity that exceeds law.

We all know the story. The younger son squanders everything until his poverty and desperation cause him to realise that he needs to go home.

I want to look especially at how he is received. His father sees him and runs to meet him. Look at the heart of compassion. Compassion with its root meaning in womb. A God of womb-like love and nurture.

We are told that the son is repentant, but the father did not know this. He merely sees his child in the distance and ran and welcomed him with a kiss. This is another reversal of the norm. Shouldn’t forgiveness follow after confession and repentance? Not here, this is unconditional love poured out. Forgiveness precedes repentance.

Anne Thurston in her book Knowing Her Place comments that “It is love which creates the possibility for repentance, for true metanoia ‘change of heart’. Conversion is not a condition but a consequence of God’s love.”

In addition, several commentators have pointed out that it would be shocking for the first century readers to hear that the father ‘ran’ to the son. This would not happen. It would be considered undignified. This would certainly cause a ripple of shock through the early readers.

It seems that in this story both the sons have missed the aspect of true relationship. The younger son had planned to return as a servant. His elder brother had talked about himself as working like a slave.

Thurston comments, ‘”The language of servant and master, the relationships of patriarchal household have been replaced with the offer of unconditional love, ‘all that is mine is yours.’”

The father throws a party and the invitation to celebrate is open to all. No-one is excluded. What a wonderful offer of unconditional love to all!

In conclusion I want briefly to glance at the other two ‘lost and found’ stories.

A shepherd responsible for 100 sheep leaves 99 to seek for one lost one . . . madness! Not at all logical. Why leave 99 sheep unprotected to search for one? That is not even good shepherding. It is another unexpected view. Then when the sheep is found the shepherd hosts a feast. Perhaps costing more than the value of the sheep.

Then the second parable, the woman with 10 coins. She is obviously a rich woman, a householder, responsible for her own affairs. She does all the correct things in seeking diligently. What a great picture of God, a woman seeking for that which was lost until it is found. Yet again, when the lost thing is found the woman threw a party to celebrate finding the coin. Again the party may have cost more than the value of the coin!

Thurston again, commenting on this second parable, “the woman diligently searching portrays God, who even when there is no urgency, goes out of her way to seek out the lost. The woman hosts the feast with the prodigal generosity of God . . . the idea of a woman hosting the feast, which suggests the eschatological banquet prepares the way for the final subversion of the patriarchal model of God which we saw in the third parable.”

I want to end with two thoughts to ponder . . .

Can these three stories of ‘lost and found’, sheep/coins/sons help us in re-imagining our view of God?

Can we receive people with unconditional love?

+Ab. Jane