Thursday, September 12, 2013

Reflections on the text: Luke 15:1-10 (32)

Read the complete text here: Luke 15:1-32
Come, Join the Party!
“… But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Luke 14:13-14
Who doesn’t like a party?  Who doesn’t like a time to relax with friends, eating and drinking and having a fun time?  Jesus certainly seems to love to party.  In the Gospel of Luke he seems to go from one party to the next.  In fact, Jesus will accept an invitation from anyone – Pharisees, Scribes, tax collectors, sinners of different kinds, people of differing classes and backgrounds (see quote above from Luke 14).  Jesus will party with anyone!  And that is one of the things that gets him in trouble.  The good and respectable people don’t like it!  Maybe it’s jealousy or self-righteousness, but when Jesus accepts party invitations from THOSE other kinds of people, the RIGHT kind of people don’t like it very much.  They grumble and complain.  After all, Jesus needs to set a good example.  Why would Jesus even want to party with people whom God has rejected?  “Aye, there’s the rub,” says Hamlet.  Who determines who God has accepted and who God as rejected? 
In our Gospel text for this weekend – Luke 15:1-10 – Jesus is partying, again.  This time he appears to be partying with tax collectors and sinners, having just left a party with a respectable Pharisee (Luke 14).  The Pharisees and scribes do not like it at all!  So, tired (I suppose) of all the grumbling and the fact that they don’t seem to get the point Jesus tells not one - not two - but three stories or parables: the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (otherwise known as the parable of the “Prodigal Son” which is not included in our text for this weekend, but is really the climax of this sequence of stories).  In each of these stories something important is lost.  But the value of what is lost does not seem to warrant the response and the excessive efforts which are undertaken to find the lost.  For example, in the first story, the shepherd looses ONE sheep out of 100.  Now that is too bad, one sheep is worth something.  But to leave the 99 un-lost ones unattended in order to look for the lost one is just crazy.  It is an extreme reaction.  It is a recipe for economic ruin.  As valuable as one sheep is, why would anyone take the risk of loosing 99 in order to find one. 

In story 2, the coin is of some value, but the woman goes to an excessive extreme in order to find the coin and then when she finds it throws a party that probably cost at least what the coin was worth!  And in the final story – the Prodigal Son – the son, who has debased himself and dishonored the father, is welcomed back with open arms.  In fact the father’s welcoming is so extreme that Jesus’ audience would probably have found his behavior offensive – running to meet him and embracing him WITHOUT an apology or period of penance and then throwing a fatted calf party for the wayward looser son and his, presumably, wayward, looser friends.  No wonder the older brother is so livid!
God will never stop to look for and reclaim the lost!  That is the dominant theme that we all usually take from these stories!  And quite frankly the tendency of preachers and writers is to stop here.  God loves us all madly and passionately.  God’s love for us is so extreme that God will go to great lengths to seek us out and God never will let us go.  This is certainly the heart of the message, especially for us 21st century Christians.  It is an important word of grace that we all need to hear from time to time. These parables remind us that we cannot chase God away and that God’s love for us is excessive and unconditional! And God will never let us go!
But - I don’t think that was the only or even the most important message Jesus was trying to convey to his original audience.  Surely some of them may have gotten that message, but remember Jesus is telling these stories to the exclusivist and grumbling Pharisees who don’t like Jesus partying with the lost.  These are men (and women?) who are very sure of their found status and do not want to share it with anyone.  To them Jesus has a very direct message – and it is not what you might think.  The message is not – surprise you are really the lost and rejected and those you think are lost or really this found and most beloved.  No - Not at all, Jesus is saying to them, “Hey guys you need to make room and order more chips and sodas, because the party is going to be a lot bigger than you originally thought!”  “God’s guest list of those whom God loves madly and passionately is a lot bigger than your guest list and we are going to have one heck of a wonderful party!”
So, there it is.  Whether you see yourself as one of the lost or one of the found – whether you identify with the younger or the older brother – God is throwing a party and you are invited too! Are you going to come? Do you exclude yourself because you don’t feel worthy?  Or will you be like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, who absolutely refuses to come into the party because “that son of yours” doesn’t deserve a party; because THOSE other partygoers are sinners, they are lost and should remain lost.  THOSE others are of a different race, or believe different than we do, or don’t believe at all, or live a sinful lifestyle, or … and you can fill in the blanks.  We are way too inclined to put people into categories and then label them.  We see this all the time in the media, and (if we are honest) we do it ourselves!  But, guess what, God’s guest list is a long list, for God’s love extends beyond our petty categories and prejudices.  In fact, not only are all of THOSE people invited to the party – but so are WE, so are YOU!  So, come to the party!  The table is set!  All are invited!  God’s love is showering down upon you!  Come!

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