Irony is Not Lost with God
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Mark A. Marius
1Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3So Jesus told them this parable: 4“Which man 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? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just 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.
8“Or what woman of you 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? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
“Jesus is dispatched with God’s love and grace to bring us back to where we be-long—in God’s kingdom.”
DIAGNOSIS: Lost in the Law
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Losing Our Way
We judge others and shame them for not measuring up or living according to the standards we think are righteous. The Pharisees were incredulous that Jesus didn’t keep to the letter of their interpretation of the law. The intimacy of eating with sinners, welcoming them into your company, crosses the line the law seeks to enforce. When certain lines are crossed, we react with self-righteous indignation. This only leads us further away from the One that calls us into relationship in the first place.
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): Turning Aside
Instead of opening our hearts to the possibility of including others, our hearts are hardened in our efforts to survive. We can’t afford to go the wrong way, let alone go after others who have lost their connection with God. We double down on our ability to do the right thing for ourselves and neglect the needs of our neighbors. When we love (trust) the law and not the law giver, we have problems.
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): Final Separation
The Lord’s words from this week’s Exodus reading says it best: “Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them” (32:10a). This is our unavoidable fate for not being able to keep our relationship with God. Not even our love for the law can bring us back to God’s good graces.
PROGNOSIS: Profound Joy
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Finding the Lost
The good news for all who are lost, whether we know it or not, is that God spares no expense in restoring our relationship. God doesn’t lose things (people), and God goes to great lengths to come after us in our wandering. Jesus is dispatched with God’s love and grace to bring us back to where we belong—in God’s kingdom. Not even death stops the One who loves us best from finding us in the most remote/hidden places.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution): Celebrating Repentance
What happens when God comes to us in our lost state and gives us the love we don’t think we deserve? Repentance. When our hearts cling to God’s promises—to keep us in relationship—we are empowered to repent and turn back to God. The joy that God gives us in our restored relationship is contagious.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): Appointed to Faithful Service
Knowing that Christ has secured our way with God, we are invited to help restore the lives of others. We too want to celebrate the joy of other repentant hearts. So we share what was shared with us: God’s love. We now judge others as God judges us—mercifully, and as faithful. There is no shame when it comes to God’s grace and there is no sin that is unforgivable. We ultimately find that the joy that our heart desires isn’t derived from our doing the right thing. Rather it comes from seeing relationships restored with God through our service to others.