“The Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’So to them [Jesus] addressed this parable.”(Luke 15:2-3)In the name …
The other night I received a phone call.I won’t tell you from whom.It was later than I would usually get a call from this person, so I mentioned this to him over the phone.That’s when he laid out for me the course of his day that was just then finally coming to an end.He’s a dad and it just happened to be the end of the first day of school for his children.His job gets him up and off to work before dawn.That particular day he had to attend an afternoon meeting that he said would not end, and he didn’t get home from work until 5PM.He asked his wife to make him a quick peanut butter sandwich so that he could change his clothes and take off with his son to coach his kid’s soccer team.When they got home after practice, the son was obviously tired after the first day back in school and after practicing on a rather hot day.However, instead of doing his homework after school like he should have, the son played on his computer.Now it was getting late and the son was faced with all that unwanted and unexciting homework that had to be turned-in on the second day of school.He was not in the mood to start homework, and I think most of us know what it looks and sounds like at this point.Plus, he doesn’t want what’s being served the next day for lunch at school, so I get the late evening phone call from his dad as he’s now driving off to the grocery store to pick-up something to pack for the next day’s school lunch.
I imagine that without even filling in any of the names of the people involved in this story, that you can still imagine pretty clearly the kind of day that we were talking about over the phone, the kind of tone the conversation had, the “I’ve just got to tell somebody about this day” attitude, and I bet many of you can put yourself into that story too.At one point or another in our lives or maybe even right now, we’ve been in this kind of a situation, and we can understand and appreciate what that father was feeling as he was driving off to the supermarket at the end of a very long day.There’s a commonality among us that the story brings out, and that bond helps us to fill in the blanks.We don’t just hear the details; we sort of make it our own.This story we hear about someone else conjures up similar moments in our own lives, and without even thinking about it, these details affect the story.
There’s a certain universal power to stories because we’re all story-tellers.I heard on National Public Radio this past Monday one report in a series they’re calling The Human Edge.It was speaking about the fact that all of us are hardwired in our brains to think about our own lives as if they were a story in the making. We're constantly rearranging the story of our lives based on the experiences that we have had in the past and on what we imagine our experiences in the future might be.This story-telling is taking place all of the time in our minds, but for the most part we’re not even aware we’re writing these autobiographies. We humans have a unique awareness that our own lives are stories that begin when we're born and end when we die. And because we know we're going to die, we are not satisfied with just surviving day to day like the rest of living creation. Instead, we strive to give our lives meaning, and that’s where the story-telling is essential.That’s a commonality among all of us.
And along comes Jesus, and He starts telling us His stories, actually God’s stories.He begins with what’s common and shared between our stories and His story.Take today’s Gospel as an example.It’s a rather simple sounding story of a shepherd.He has one hundred sheep.One is found to be lost.Automatically, all of the story-tellers in Jesus’ audience are beginning to make this story their own.It’s being processed in their on-going autobiography.It’s coming together with all of their own shared experiences with shepherding.But then comes the kicker.Jesus throws in a detail that would not be a part of their common story.He tells a story instead of a shepherd who leaves the 99 to search for the one lost sheep.This is blatantly impractical.This is not the common sense born of our shared experience.This is where Jesus’ common story suddenly becomes very uncommon.
And this is exactly when we start to get God’s side of the story.This is when we really need to start paying attention.Just like we filled in the details of that father’s really, really long first-day-of-school story, so now Jesus is offering us how God would fill in the story.Think about how Luke introduces this parable of the one lost sheep.The religious authorities of Jesus’ day complain that Jesus is associating with sinners, whatever that may mean.And to them Jesus offers this parable.Not to the sinners, but to the ones who are complaining that Jesus would associate with people such as these.Jesus is challenging them with a new story, with God’s story.Their story is familiar and predictable, and Jesus is all too familiar with their rush to religious judgment.But Jesus tells them instead an unfamiliar story, a story where the one is just as important as the 99.It’s not about quantity or quality.In God’s story it’s about wholeness, that all people are important in the eyes of God, that in God’s story religion and faith are not so much about pointing out our differences and failures, but about seeing us all as important to God, even if it’s just one who is missing because sometimes it’s the one who needs us the most, it’s about bringing us all together.
We’re all story-tellers. It’s how we make sense out of our lives; it’s how we give them meaning.What Jesus is hoping for is that we also listen to God’s stories so that maybe they won’t sound so different and strange all the time, that maybe they can even become part of our stories.Let us listen to Jesus’ message of wholeness and try to make that a part of how we think and act as religious people.Let us look out for the needs of the one even if we’re part of the 99.That’s what Christ would do, and so that’s what we Christians should do.And for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)