Today we have in
the Gospel reading two familiar stories. Actually, it’s probably one very
familiar story and one sort of familiar story. Frequently, Luke includes
parallel stories, one about a man, another about a woman. This time the stories
are about a person searching for something that is lost and finding it, and
We love the story
of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go looking for the one who is missing.
Probably, the shepherd would have left the care of the 99 sheep to an assistant
shepherd, perhaps even his son, a shepherd in training. There are lots of
paintings, stained glass windows, and sculptures of Jesus carrying a lamb, the
Why a lamb and
not a sheep, as the story goes? Because sheep are heavy. I found a chart that
said the average weight of a 2-month-old lamb is 36 pounds, and a 4-month-old
weighs 69 pounds. A six-month-old weighs close to 100 pounds. It must be a
young sheep if the shepherd is carrying it on his shoulders.
We love to
imagine Jesus, the Good Shepherd, carrying the lamb home from some dangerous
place. The lamb may represent us, when we have strayed from the flock, the
church, at a time when we have “left the building.” Or, the lamb may represent someone
else, someone who has no use for God, and we are happy God continually looks
for them. Whoever the lamb is, we know that lost sheep are worth looking for.
We don’t usually
have as much of an emotional connection to the story about the woman looking
for her lost coin. But I can so easily relate to her! I can’t tell you the
number of times I have searched the house looking for a particular piece of
paper! A bill, a check, a Christmas wish list, a scrap of paper with a phone
number or email address. The house gets clean – as I discard all the now-worthless
pieces of paper that are not what I was looking for, along with all the dust
bunnies I disturb in the process of cleaning.
One commentator I read called this woman
the Good Sweeper, in comparison to the Good Shepherd. The woman cleans her
house, and it takes a while. The coin is a drachma, a day’s wage, so in today’s
money, maybe $200.
She has ten of
them, so one suggestion is that the collection of coins is the family emergency
fund, their savings account, carefully squirrelled away over the years. Another
suggestion is that this coin is part of her dowry, which guarantees her place
in the household. A woman may not cash in her dowry coins without her husband’s
permission, so she has to find it. Some husbands would be understanding
if she lost that much money, but many would not, especially in the patriarchal
age Jesus lived in.
Whichever purpose the coin serves, the Good Sweeper cleans
her house, moves everything, upturns all the jugs and bowls, shines a light into
all the cracks. She does not stop until she has found the missing coin. It must
have taken her a while to find it, because when she finally finds the coin, she
calls in her friends and they celebrate.
In this story, as
in the story about the lost sheep, those who lost are worth searching for, and
worth a lot more than $250. As he tells these stories, Jesus could be talking about one
person who is lost, or a particular group like the scribes and Pharisees, or he
could be talking about all the Jews.
because they were all lost, and God wanted them to be found. They needed a new
way of thinking about God, as a lover, not as a rule-enforcer. Jesus ends each
story with a comment about how God rejoices when those who have been lost
become found. When the lost is found, recovered, there is rejoicing, on earth
and in heaven.
Most of the time, when we consider what these lost and
found parables mean, we relate them to whether or not we – or they – are participating
in church. Most of us have at least one close family member who was raised going
to church and youth group, but who now wants nothing to do with church. We want
to be like the Good Shepherd picking up the lost lamb, as the Good Sweeper
searching tirelessly for a lost coin, and bring them back to church with us.
We also may think
about those who are lost to God due to drugs or alcohol or some other addiction,
or those who are homeless. We think about those who care more about earning
money than about spending time with Jesus. We want to find them and fix them by
giving them a Bible, a meal, a hug, an invitation to return to church. And lots
of times, over time, it works. We find them, and through us, God fixes them.
But what if the one God is searching for
is the real us, the real me? What if, deep down, the real me is broken? What if
this picture shows the real me, curled in a fetal position, crying out my
despair because there is no hope?
I’ve been there a
few times, fortunately not often, and fortunately, not for long. I’ve been
there when my first marriage was ending. I’ve been there when my Dad took too
many pills and was rushed to the hospital. I’ve been there when my brother Rob was
plagued with the demons of schizophrenia and took his own life. I’ve been there
watching my mother struggle to breathe with emphysema. I’ve been there when I
realized how I had been wrong, so wrong.
Fortunately, I remembered
that there were people who loved me. There were people who brought Jesus to me.
And I remembered that God never leaves me to suffer alone. In those times, I
read scripture, playing Bible Bingo, reading any story in the Bible, and was
reminded that God never abandons us. Even when we feel totally alone, we are
Our God who is
the Good Shepherd and the Good Sweeper never stops looking for us, never stops
looking for ways to pry open our hearts to find the real us, the real me. There
is nowhere God won’t go to find us, to heal us, to work to make us whole, to
create in us clean hearts.
Take a moment.
When have you been so despairing, you felt broken, too broken to fix? When have
you been so lost, you thought you would never be found? I remind you that our God
is persistent. Our God never stops looking for us, never stops trying to shine
a light on us, to find the real us, no matter how lost and broken we feel.
And when we allow ourselves to be found, there is joy in
heaven and on earth. We don’t have to die to feel the arms of Jesus around us.
They can be found in the hands that hold ours and offer a tissue, or in the
arms that offer a hug. Maybe that’s why so many of us are huggers. We can’t
wait to feel the love of Jesus, given by those we already know and love, or given
to us by a total stranger with whom we, somehow, connected.
This week, I hope
you will reflect about those times when you have felt lost, and how it felt to
be found again. Pray about it, let the Good Shepherd and the Good Sweeper into
your heart to heal you.
And pay attention
to those around you. Are some of those you know also lost and broken? Maybe it
will help them to hear your own story of being lost and then found. Don’t be
afraid to share your story. Jesus may be using you, your own story, to find and
heal that lost person. Maybe you are the one to help the Good Shepherd and the
Good Sweeper find them and rejoice that they have at last let themselves be