7 November 2013. Thursday of the Thirty First Week
Rom 14:7ff. Both in life and in death we belong to God, in our risen Lord Jesus. Reverencing him, we do not act as judge of our fellow-men.
Luke 15:1ff. There is more joy in heaven over finding the one lost sheep or the one lost coin than over the ninety-nine virtuous folk who had no need to repent.
First Reading: Romans 14:7-12
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Looking for those sheep
In Luke’s account, Jesus never misses an opportunity to join in a dinner-party. Many of the great discourses in this gospel were delivered at the dining table of his wealthy hosts. Both parables conclude with a happy retriever of lost goods [a lost sheep or lost silver pieces] inviting friends and neighbours in and bidding them, ‘Rejoice with me!’ and such happy occasion are compared with God’s own joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, which is greater than over the ninety-nine righteous who have no need to repent.
We are all reflected both in the ninety-nine sheep that are always accountable, and in the one lost sheep that wanders off and is reluctant to live under control. We have ideas and talents that understand and try to carefully direct. They are always with us and we are quietly proud of them, since because of them we receive compliments and awards. These constitute ninety-nine righteous percent of ourselves that has “no need to repent.” But perhaps God has also poured an unpredictable and unruly talent or quality into us. Stretching the parable a bit, we might say that this easily lost part of ourselves can be a special moment of time or a unique opportunity crossing our path, chances and graces so fleeting that they can easily pass us by. All of us possess some talents and inspirations, for ourselves or the church, for our family, neighbourhood or country, that seem too idealistic even to talk about. They might be spoiled or injured by ridicule or simply by cool indifference. Or they might turn out to deman so much of ourselves that we try to suppress them. Such inspirations could become crucial turning points in our lives – whether to forgive another and be reconciled, to volunteer assistance badly needed by a marginalised group, or to make a clear decision for marriage for priesthood or for some other vocational choice.
The parable assures us that the lost sheep and lost coin in each of us can be found. We must leave aside the ninety-nine other aspects of ourselves and seek this one, fleeting aspect. But are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover the lost coin?
Every part of ourselves and of our existence “in life and in death” belongs to the Lord. For Paul goes on to say, “That is why Christ died and came to life again.” If the price of detaching ourselves from the security of the ninety-nine percent is high, it is done in union with the Christ who died for us; if we venture out to find and claim our lost sheep, it is with Christ who rose to the life of resurrection.
With this viewpoint too we can also understand Paul’s injunction against harshly judging one’s neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see may be just the ninety-nine, the one other being lost to view. Our judgment seldom takes into consideration the rediscovering of the lost sheep or coin, which cannot easily be seen. But when the lost one is found, the ninety-nine are also inspired with new meaning, for Jesus wants all of his people to share in his identity as the shepherd who never ceases to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.