Summary: FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST SEPTEMBER 16, 2001 LUKE 15:1-10
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST SEPTEMBER 16, 2001 LUKE 15:1-10
Thank you Heavenly Father for being ever-watchful even when we are not and for seeking us out when we are lost and pointing us in the right direction when we lose something valuable. Amen.
Title: “God is ever-watchful.”
Jesus continues to teach along the way of his journey to Jerusalem. Here he develops the theme of God’s joy at sinners who return to him and defends his own attitude toward sinners.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN forms one self-contained unit with a single theme: God’s joy with sinners who return to him and Jesus’ acceptance of those who do and tolerance of those who have yet to do so. The introduction, verses one to three, is followed by two short, similarly constructed parables verses four to seven, and eight to ten, and one longer one verses eleven to thirty-two, which all make the same point by using the “lost-found” motif.
In verse one, tax collectors and sinners: Tax collectors were Jews who helped the hated Romans by collecting their taxes for them. They were assigned a certain amount to turn in to the Roman government and were able to keep anything above that as their commission. Consequently, they were hated for both collecting taxes for a despised occupier and for extorting their own countrymen on top of it. They were considered traitors. They would also be considered sinners, a category that included anyone whose occupation was regarded as incompatible with Jewish law. Of course, “sinners” included more than just tax collectors, but these public sinners were so outside of the law that even rabbis would not associate with them. Jesus’ audience included people a self-respecting Pharisee would have nothing to do with. Associating with such people made one “unclean” and therefore unqualified to worship God or associate with those who do.
In verse two, the Pharisees and scribes: Pharisees were lay folk who observed the Jewish law to the letter, or at least tried to and claimed to. They were proud of their religiosity and looked down on those who did not comply with the law. All scribes, experts in the law, were not necessarily Pharisees. Those referred to here would also be Pharisees. It was a basic tenet of the law that associating with a sinner, knowingly or unknowingly, tainted one and required purification, minor washing or major sacrifice in the Temple, depending upon the case. The complaint here that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them” is tantamount to accusing Jesus of being one of them, since one sinned simply by being in their company. The Pharisaic attitude would shun them, snub them, shame them. Jesus would have none of this. He goes on to illustrate why.
In verse four, a hundred sheep: A hundred sheep would be a fairly normal size herd for a small farmer. The shepherd would count his sheep in the evening when they returned from grazing before entering the enclosure. In this parable the shepherd notices one missing. Most people would not miss one out of a hundred anything, but a good shepherd would.
Leave the ninety-nine: Most shepherds would not do this. It would be too risky, too dangerous for the other sheep to be attacked or stolen. His venture after but one sheep is unusual behavior meant to reflect the behavior of God who goes to extraordinary lengths to find the lost, even one out of a hundred.
In verse five, with great joy: The joy a shepherd feels at the end of an arduous search for a single lost sheep is meant to express God’s reaction when a sinner is returned safely to the fold. While we could never know what, if anything, the great and awesome God actually feels, Jesus uses the human experience of “joy” to, in some sense, describe it. That joy also explains Jesus’ own reaction to and relationship with sinners. Disapproving of what sinners do, that is, sin, he still accepts them, indeed seeks them out.
In verse seven, more joy in heaven: Using what we call the “theological passive,” a roundabout but respectful way of talking about God, Jesus, in effect, says, “God is happier with a repentant sinner than someone who wrongly thinks he or she is without sin because of his or her religious observance.” Such a one cannot repent for he or she sees no need to. Repentance results in God declaring a sinner righteous. The self- righteous consider themselves something they are not. The tag or term “righteous” is bestowed by God, not earned by deeds or claimed by self.
In verse eight, woman having ten coins: This parable is constructed the same as the above parable of the Lost Sheep. Here a woman is the center of attention, whereas the above, twin, parable featured a man. The Greek identifies the coins as drachmas, equivalent in value to the Roman denarius; about a day’s wages of a common laborer. About 300BC it actually represented the value of a sheep, but the coin was considerably devalued by the first century AD. Although Jesus is not specific about it, it would seem this was the woman’s dowry commonly in the form of a headdress, although it could represent her savings. It was a considerable amount of money for a peasant to have, whatever it represented.