Third Sunday after Trinity
July 6 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The way to interpret the parables of Jesus is to first look for the point of comparison. There is a temptation to allegorize these little stories and to assign a meaning to every detail, no matter how insignificant it seems. Sometimes and interpreter even makes up details that he thinks are implied by the text, but aren’t really there, in order to make the parable fit what he thinks it should mean. This method of interpretation turns a parable into a fable, which inevitably arrives at a moralizing conclusion. The parables of Jesus, however, illustrate one point of comparison.
Another aspect of Jesus’ parables is His consistent inclusion of some utterly absurd detail. Now that we’re in the Trinity season and we have more parables in our readings, you’ll hear this again. The absurdity of the parables serves two purposes: first, to pique the hearer’s interest; and second, to illustrate the utter absurdity of the kingdom of God when compared to this world.
In the two parables today, Jesus sets up two lost objects. First is a lost sheep; second is a lost coin. In reaction, the shepherd of the sheep goes out on a mission to find the lost sheep and the woman turns over her whole house to find her lost coin. The absurdity shared by these two parables is the intense desire for the one lost thing, showing that God is concerned for the individual sinner.
He spoke this parable to them, saying, “What man of you, having one hundred sheep, and he loses one of them, does not leave behind the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go out toward the lost one until he finds it?” (vv 3-4). Our first parable puts us out in the pastures with a shepherd and his even one hundred sheep. But the complicating incident is that one of the sheep wanders off. The shepherd loses him. What is absurd is what happens next.
The shepherd goes off in search of the lost sheep. That in and of itself is not absurd, but when he goes off to find the lost one, he leaves the ninety-nine alone in the wilderness! Jesus asks what man would leave the ninety-nine alone and search for the one. I’m not an expert in shepherding (and maybe one of you can correct me), but I don’t think anyone would do that. What if another sheep, or two or three, from the ninety-nine wandered off? What if a wolf comes and scatters the ninety-nine and snatches another away while the shepherd’s off searching for the lost one? The absurdity of the shepherd is his intense desire for the one, as if it were his own personal sheep, part of his own household.
The absurdity of his intense desire for the one is mirrored by his reaction when he finds it. And when he finds it, places it upon his shoulders, rejoicing. And coming into his house, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice together with me, because I found my sheep that was lost” (vv 5-6). What about the other ninety-nine? Still out in the wilderness? But Jesus says this is about the one. I am saying to you that in this way there is joy in heaven over one sinner, than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not have need of repentance (v 7).
The second parable reinforces the first. Or what woman, having ten drachmas, if she loses one drachma, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search for it carefully until she finds it? (v 8). A drachma is a coin that’s worth roughly a day’s wage, so what our woman has is a full two-week’s paycheck. But she loses one.
Now the absurdity. She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully for it until she finds it. What the woman puts in to the coin search is more than what the coin is actually worth. Presumably she (or someone else) had put in a day’s wage already to earn the coin in the first place, and now she adds more work—perhaps even another full day’s work—to find the coin.
The absurdity shows us her intense desire for the one, which is again mirrored by her reaction when she finds it. And when she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, because I found the drachma that was lost” (v 9). She finds the coin only to spend more on a party than the coin she is celebrating. But, Jesus says, In this way, I am saying to you, joy comes before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (v 10).
The absurdity of the kingdom of God is His intense desire for the one, for the lost, for the sinner. Pastors and mission executives sell the faithful a spiritual snake oil that says that you have to experience exponential growth, or else you’re a dying congregation. They say that since the Bible mentions numbers, you also need to boast of great numbers. But Jesus says in no uncertain terms, there is only one number that He is concerned about: one. One sinner. One sinner who repents.
His concern, His intense desire is for you. You are the sinner that He desires to the extent that He does the unbelievable. He leaves His heavenly throne to come into the wilderness, to search with eyes of flesh for you. He exposes Himself to the same dangers and threats as you. He comes as the Lamp that shines in the darkness. He puts in a day’s work from courtroom to cross that far exceeds the value you have earned, simply because of the joy your repentance brings before the angels in heaven.
The absurdity of the parable isn’t the point of comparison, but rather flows from the foolishness of God, which is the cross of Christ. The particular point of comparison in these two parables is the particular application of the foolishness of God and the absurdity of His kingdom. These two parables, Jesus says explicitly, are about repentance. I am saying to you that in this way there is joy in heaven over one sinner, than over ninety-nine righteous ones who do not have need of repentance (v 7). In this way, I am saying to you, joy comes before the angels of God over one sinner who repents (v 10).
Jesus was prompted to tell these two parables (as well as the one that follows it) by some grumbling from the Pharisees and scribes. All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to hear Him, and the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats together with them” (vv 1-2).
The Pharisees are offended that Jesus would spend quality time with the degenerates, with the losers, with the sinners. This Man is supposed to be a spiritual teacher, people even claim that He is sent from God. And He wastes His time with the godless and the reprobate. Eats with them, even! Doesn’t Jesus know what makes a man unclean, uncivilized, unworthy to be in God’s presence?
This is not just a Pharisee and scribe problem. It’s also a Christian problem. After we come to faith, begin to learn a bit of the kingdom of God, we discover that the world around us isn’t so pure. We find sin everywhere. It’s on TV, in the papers, on the news, down the street, in the schools, in our own families, in the church. The sin and rebellion and godlessness encroaches the faithful and threatens our purity. It’s enough to drive a pious Lutheran to a nervous breakdown.
But it’s a spiritual arrogance. These two parables show us that you have to repent and amend your life to make yourself worthy of Jesus’ company. The point of comparison is that repentance is the work of God in finding the lost sinner.
Neither the wandering sheep nor the lost coin contribute to its own finding. It’s the work of the shepherd; it’s the work of the woman. Jesus not only puts us in the pasture with the sheep and in the house with the coins, He puts us behind the eyes of God for a few moments. When He sees one, lost sinner, He doesn’t see someone who’s impure, someone who should be shunned until they become more righteous. He sees someone who needs to be found, someone who needs to be restored to his rightful place.
Repentance is not something that you do. Repentance is the work of God upon you. Christ seeks for you like a lost sheep. He sends His Spirit to enlighten you, to sweep you clean of the sin that clutters your soul, to find a new creation begun under the not-so-pure exterior.
Luther once wrote a letter with these words: Therefore my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him, and despairing of yourself say: “Thou Lord Jesus art my righteousness, but I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken upon Thyself what is mine, and has given to me what is thine. Thou hast taken upon Thyself what Thou wast not, and has given to me what I was not. Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners.
It is heaven’s joy when Christ works repentance in you. He is the one who changes your mind, who gives you a new way of thinking. It’s absurd to the world, foolish to our own natural presuppositions. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men. His intense desire that you be found sends Him to the flesh and to the cross. He searches for you, He calls to you, He lightens the darkness to find you. And when He finds you, He returns you to His kingdom, borne upon His shoulders. He throws a feast in celebration—His own true body and blood. Angels rejoice. Archangels exult. The whole company of heaven comes together.
There Is Joy in Heaven When Your God Works Repentance in You
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard