If you happen to peruse the vast wasteland of daytime television, it is likely you will flip past channels featuring opposing individuals yelling or screaming their disagreements to the viewing audience. Usually moderated by the likes of Maury, Dr. Phil or Judge Judy, it is often difficult for the host to focus the antagonists on the truth of a matter, much less find a path toward mutual reconciliation.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is dealing with two disparate groups gathered together. Publicans and sinners have gathered to listen to words of hope from Jesus, while the scribes and Pharisees have congregated to murmur and find fault against Him. Each group was acutely aware of the differences that existed between these first century “saints” and “sinners.”
When reading a novel, watching a movie, or channel surfing at home, we tend to identify with a certain individual character or group. As a Christian, with whom do you identify in today’s Gospel?
Is it with Jesus as he tries to straighten out the religious leaders of his day, teaching them to reach out even to the most despised? Christians should never stop initiating outreach to the unlovable, especially those in their own family.
Do you identify with the scribes and Pharisees who were especially wary of associating with the wrong crowd and becoming exposed to their bad influences? After all, they knew what was proper and in accordance with the law. Christians should appreciate the legacy of faith that church discipline and tradition provides. The blessings of the sacraments are a spiritual treasure that endures to this day, because of their essential, life-giving importance.
Do you think of yourself as being in the company of the tax collectors and sinners? Those who would steal from their own people, yet would rarely darken the door of a synagogue or the
Do you see yourself in the role of the shepherd chasing down strays? All Christians have been commissioned by Christ to seek and save those who are lost. We are never to give up hope, that those who have wandered away, might be found and restored.
How about the 99 sheep who were basically on task? It’s easy for Christians, faithfully serving the church month after month, year after year, to feel invisible and unappreciated.
But the Shepherd does not love them any less than the wayward sheep. In fact, he is counting on the 99 to be there as a loving community the lost can return to and in which they can rediscover their identity as a restored child, beloved of the Father.
Have there been times when you could have been described as a sheep who was lost? Christians can lose their way when they fail to stay close to the Shepherd, or think they can live without the rest of the flock. However, there is always a way back, always an open door, always the possibility of restoration to fellowship.
God’s perspective is found in verse 10 and forms our understanding of this morning’s text. Quote, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” But repentance does not occur in a vacuum.
The scribes and Pharisees took comfort in Scripture texts like Psalm 1. “Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners.” Taken by itself, it had the natural effect of cutting off interaction with those in need of repentance. The scribes and Pharisees mistakenly believed that reconciliation of sinners with God and their restoration to the community was not possible. This was an unbalanced understanding of the Law and the Prophets.
Repentance and reconciliation requires involvement with people who might not respond to an invitation the first time it is offered. That does not mean we are to stop trying.
My sister encountered a situation with her daughter and son, who because of a difference of opinion, estranged themselves from the rest of the family. She endured many false accusations, and was eventually barred from seeing her own grandchildren. My sister worked diligently to re-open the lines of communication to facilitate reconciliation and healing. No matter how many times her children failed to respond to her cards and emails, she faithfully called them every weekend, leaving messages of love and thoughtfulness on their answering machine. This went on for over a year before the ice began to thaw. Small steps in communication warmed up to renewed relationships and happy visits with the grandchildren.
Sometimes there are members of our own family or community, who do not want the lost to return. Perhaps they are still in need of healing over past hurts the lost one has caused, or they refuse to believe the other person can or may have actually changed. They may have experienced many false starts, or failed attempts at reconciliation. But God never gives up on any of us. And he wishes us to continue to extend that invitation to others.
There is a section of Jewish wisdom literature known as the Pir’ke Avot. The Hebrew translation means sayings of the fathers. One of my favorite quotes is from Rabbi Tarfon and I return to it frequently. He reminds me that “You are not required to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to abstain from it.”
Restoration is a work of mercy in which God allows us to participate. We are not responsible for the outcome of each individual attempt, but we are responsible to cooperate with His grace and continue to reach out to those who need assurance of His love and forgiveness.
May the Lord renew and strengthen us day by day, and help us in our witness to those in need of repentance and reconciliation with God.
For “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”