by Linda McMillan
Whether it’s the wholeness of our communities or the wholeness of our lives, these stories are hopeful… if somewhat wild… reminders that the whole matters more than the parts.
Each Bible parable is full of surprises. We are surprised, for example, when the Samaritan has mercy on the man who has been robbed on the road leading down from Jerusalem, we laugh in surprise when the poor and weak are invited to the wedding feast, but today’s parables leave us slack-jawed. What is Jesus talking about?
First, there is the story of the 99 sheep. There used to be 100, but the shepherd had lost one of them. Jesus said, “Who among you would not leave the 99 unprotected in the wilderness to go and find the one which was lost?” Of course, nobody would do that. You don’t have to be a shepherd to know that if you leave 99 sheep to themselves you will soon have no sheep at all… Well, you might have the one… If you can find it.
And so we are left wondering what Jesus was talking about. Clearly, he knows nothing about sheep.
Luke liked to keep some balance between stories about men and stories about women, so the main character in the next parable is a woman. The woman used to have ten coins, but then she only had nine. The logical thing to do was to sweep the house and find the lost coin, which she did. But, then she did something nearly as crazy as leaving 99 sheep untended in the wilderness, she threw a party. The text does not tell us what the coin was worth, but it seems likely that the cost of a party would exceed the value of one coin. So, again, I have to say, “No, Jesus, I would not do that,” and I might add, “That’s crazy.”
But, Jesus is a little bit crazy, isn’t he? He has not come to maintain the status quo, after all. Last week he gave us a new set of family values which destroyed clan and village loyalty. Now he is consorting with collaborators and sinners. They have started coming to Jesus because it was finally clear that Jesus had come for the collaborators, those with dropsy, people possessed by demons, bleeding women, barren women, accused women, blind men, even dead men!
Jesus had already warned us about this when he said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He is really not too interested in the righteous, it’s sinners who have captured his imagination. Ushering in a new economy where the turning of one is worth the righteousness of 99 is how he turns everything on its head. Again.
In the past, one goat would be sacrificed for the good of the whole, and it was sent out into the wilderness. But, Jesus is saying that violence against the one will not deliver the rest as it has in the past. From now on, deliverance is in wholeness, in the community being complete down to the very last lamb.
Not many of us have sheep to worry about, and I suspect that most of your money is in a bank like mine. We have to wonder, then, how we can be whole and complete without sheep or stacks of coins? And, if you’ll indulge me a little pun, I think the answer is a two-sided, ahem… coin.
The first thing we do is keep ourselves within the flock, to carry the metaphor forward. We don’t want to be like the tax collector who was praying in the temple alongside the pharisee and placed himself apart. Regardless of sin, status, or reputation, the community of faith is where we find wholeness, and the community is only whole when we are all there. This is the lesson of the 99 sheep. The one which was lost really is worth as much as the 99 because without it the 99 is only 99, it is not whole until it’s 100.
The second parable teaches us to look for things that are lost. These days when we pass through life at breakneck speeds, it is easy for things to get lost. Lose your faith? Lose your joy? Forget how to relax? It happens, and often we don’t even notice. In the few minutes of quiet, you may have today see if there’s something missing? Has a relationship become distant, or your quiet time reduced to the five minutes between the alarm and the snooze? Have you drifted away from your moorings, your community, the things that make you who you are? The second of our parables tells us that what has been lost can be found again and that our lives are not complete until everything is in place, even one single coin makes a difference.
Whether it’s the wholeness of our communities or the wholeness of our lives, these stories are hopeful… if somewhat wild… reminders that the whole matters more than the parts, and that we might have to be a little crazy to get all the pieces of it together, but we can!
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China but thinks of moving back to Yangon every day.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
“Who among you would not leave the 99 unprotected in the wilderness, to go and find the one?” is my own paraphrase. The actual reading doesn’t say anything about leaving them unprotected.
Luke likes to tell a story about a man, and then one about a woman, or vice-versa. For example: Zachariah received a prophecy about John the Baptist, Mary received one about Jesus. The man who plants a mustard bush parallels the woman who puts leaven in the dough. We saw that one Sabbath day he healed both a man and a woman. He restored life to children for both a man and a woman. Luke says that on the last day, two men will be sleeping in a bed and one of them will be taken and the other left, then he talks about two women who are grinding at the same wheel saying that one of them will be taken and one left. There are other examples too. Generally Luke does a pretty good job of maintaining some parity between the sexes.
Luke 25…. Jesus says you should hate your father and mother.
Tax collectors were often eschewed because of their connection with the Roman Empire. Some were honest, some were on the take, but they were all thought to be collaborators in the same way that even an honest used-car salesman may have credibility issues today.
Luke 14:2… Jesus healed a man who had dropsy. Today we would say that he had edema.
Luke 8… Jesus cast demons out of a man in the Gerasene region. He also healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years.
Luke 1:7… Elizabeth, who would become the mother of John the Baptist, was barren.
Luke 13… A woman was oppressed by a spirit of accusation.
Luke 18:35… Jesus came both for blind men and for beggars. (To include this reference is reading ahead a little bit.)
Luke 7… Jesus brought back to life the son of the widow of Nain.
Luke 5:32… “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Leviticus 16:10… “But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.”
On October 23, we will read the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee praying in the temple. The tax collector stood at a distance, as if he were not really a part of the temple. See Luke 18:9-14.