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Finding and Feasting

Lent 4, Common Lectionary Year C

Luke 15:1-24

©2019 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Jones

Turn the text with us, Holy One,
Writer of your life upon ours,
so that we can be found by you,
and share in the feast of finding wisdom and grace for our living.
Amen.

It was a bit of a surprise to most of the members of the Thursday morning
Midrash Bible study group that met about six weeks ago,
to discover that this very familiar parable
– known to almost every English speaking person as the “Prodigal Son” –
is actually one of triplets – one of three stories.
The lectionary usually lets it sit by itself,
plunked down in the middle of Lent – the season of repentance –
as a moral tale exhorting us to not be like the prodigal wastrel,
and if possible not like his sanctimonious brother either,
but that if we do end up like either,
we ought to repent and sin no more,
and fall down on our knees to beg the forgiveness of our heavenly father.
That is a perfectly good, solid interpretation of the story,
and I will not ask you to set that aside if that is how it is Gospel for you.

But, today, I do invite us to see what happens when we one parable sit down alongside its siblings, the way Luke’s Jesus intended us hear them.

As any of you who’ve participated in our Midrash studies knows,
context matters. It does here.
Luke clearly tells us that Jesus’ decision to sit and teach
was in response to a vexing question that was troubling the scribes and Pharisees.
Why does Jesus keep hanging out with all the “wrong people”?

Why did that matter to the Pharisees?
(Why does it still matter to us?)

Briefly: Pharisees believed that God wanted to restore Judea to God’s people Israel,
but that could only happen if Israel were to live as purely and perfectly as possible
all the stipulations of the Torah.
So Pharisees were all about purity of body and mind, perfection of ritual, and a constant watchfulness against temptation of all sorts.
To them, Jesus hanging out with people who couldn’t keep Torah was a threat to their whole understanding of God, and how to live as people of faith.

And Jesus knew it,
because he knew God differently, somehow.
And for Jesus, the best way to answer their question
was not to trade Torah with them verse for verse,
not to argue, not to justify,
but instead to midrash,
to turn Torah a new way,
to tell a story, or two, or three,
in order weave with words a portrait of God
who is far more interested, invested
in seeking and finding any and all who are lost
than in checking on who is keeping the rules.

So here, we have not one, not two, but three
stories in which we hear the same words,
working like a heartbeat constant, and life-giving:
lost, found, rejoicing, feasting;
lost, found, rejoicing, feasting;
lost, found, rejoicing, feasting!

A sheep is lost.
The shepherd seeks.
A sheep is found.
The shepherd rejoices
and calls everyone to feast!

A coin is lost.
The woman seeks.
A coin is found.
The woman rejoices
and calls everyone to feast!

A son is lost.
The father seeks, watches
A son is found.
The father rejoices
and calls everyone to feast!

What God it is that Jesus knows!
What God it is that Jesus would have us know and trust!
What God is is that Jesus would have us share
with others by the way we live our faith in action!

One who will always do whatever it takes,
to search, far and wide, high and low,
to watch, for an eternity if need be,
until every last lost one is brought home.

What God it is that sweeps you up and bears you on his shoulders!
What God it is that holds us, like a precious coin, warm, in the palm of her hand!
What God it is that runs to cover us, all, with kisses with total and utter forgiveness, and with reconciling love!
What God it is we must proclaim in word and deed to all with whom we share this life!

I have one last thing that I want to give you to midrash this text
for our soul’s salving.
During the offering, you will be given a coin.
It is for keeping.
Hold it in your hand, and as it warms, to remind you,
just so you are held, lost and found
held close and warm in the hand of God.

If you know of someone who needs a coin, as much or more than you do,
share it, or take another with you.

And what did Jesus say happens then?
“There will be such a party in heaven over every lost one found!”

Amen.


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