Rejoice With Me
Luke 15: 1 — 10
By way of explanation, the Lectionary reading for this Sunday's Gospel is actually Luke 15: 1 — 32. Our reflection deals only with verses 1 — 10 as the rest is the portion often called "The Prodigal Son" which we commented on earlier in Year C.
Over the past 10 weeks we have been meditating on the qualities Jesus demands of those who follow him. We pause this week to reflect on the 'Gospel within the Gospel' — the message of pardon and reconciliation.
It is clear from various accounts that the Pharisees treated Jesus as a fellow rabbi. However they were uncomfortable with his interest in outcasts — it was they felt, unbecoming for such a person. In the Old Testament, God required a certain discretion about such matters, but among some, it became a pious fad to widen the separation. This is always a temptation for religious peoples. Most of us, in fact, also draw lines about contact with undesirables. It is so very human.
In this passage, Jesus takes on the challenge to broaden the view of his rabbi acquaintances. As usual he uses the material of the moment to lift their sights to God.
In the two parables which are our text, we are blessed with a unique insight into God's mind and heart. They give us new perspectives of mercy: searching out and rejoicing.
Some Notes On Our Text
Verse 1 and 2
The scene opens with the constant coming and going of "tax-collectors" and "sinners" who enjoyed accepting the hospitality of Jesus. For those who saw their role as setting the standards for society, it was bad enough that he was sometimes seen accepting their hospitality. But, here, he really is thought to be going too far by allowing the (so-called) riff-raff to come and go as they please, enjoying his open hospitality.
Our Lord, understanding their good intentions but exaggerated sense of self-importance, goes to very great lengths to help them understand his position. Clearly, he does not think he is wasting his time — at least some of them must be open to receiving what he wants to convey. So he tells them a parable in two parts.
Verse 4 — 6
Part one puts before them the scene in which any one (or each) of them has a hundred sheep and discovers he is missing one. Jesus without patronising them, demonstrates his confidence in each of them and suggests they would stop at nothing to search the whole countryside until they found their sheep. Nothing would be too much trouble. Indeed, when they found it, they would not hesitate to put it on their shoulders and carry it home. And then Jesus suggests, being bubbling over with gratitude, they would invite all around to rejoice and celebrate.
Whether or not each of his listeners would act in this way, he has graciously assumed the very best of them; and conveyed the fact that since that is what was needed, he feels certain they would do it!
Leaving the language of a parable he makes a personal declaration in his own name:
"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."
Verse 8 and 9
Jesus completes his parable with the scene of a woman losing a coin somewhere in the house. She literally turns the whole house upside down until it is found. She also cannot contain her gratitude and excitement — she must share and celebrate with everyone she loves.
Jesus adds: "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
This is a very devout Hebrew way of implying that it is God who cannot contain his excitement over the return of a lost one — and when that happens the whole of heaven reverberates with the rejoicing.
One gets the feeling that Christians sometimes react to statements such as verse 2 about Scribes and Pharisees muttering criticism of Jesus with a "They're picking on him again" attitude. Jesus was totally at home in the rough-tough stuff of rabbinic debate. He gave as good as he got and thrived on it! If we read between the lines in the Gospels, and this week's reading is an excellent example, our Lord is well aware that elitism occurs in all cultures and he sure wants his Church to avoid it. We see him here in this little snapshot, trying his utmost to appeal to the best in his critics. Some of them, surely, heard the real core of his message:
We need not be in any doubt. His message has obviously made its mark amongst his immediate audience — but of course, they were not the only ones this message is for.
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