Reflections for the Week of September 11, 2016 Seventeenth after Pentecost

Gospel: Luke 15.1-10. Jesus tells two parables, one of the lost sheep and the other of the lost coin.

He tells these to the Pharisees and scribes who were complaining that He associated with tax collectors and sinners, and considered themselves too good to consort with such riffraff. In the story of the lost sheep, Jesus says that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine which were not lost and goes after the one lost sheep. He searches for it where it has wandered into a wilderness of thorns and thistles (we presume) and finds it and brings it home again. The shepherd needs to pick the sheep up and carry it on his shoulders till he arrives at home. Then he calls together his friends and neighbors to celebrate and rejoice at finding the lost sheep. Jesus says there is more rejoicing in heaven over finding the one lost sheep than over the ninety nine who were not lost.

The second parable about the lost coin is similar. The woman who has lost the coin probably had it as a part of a headdress that was given her at her betrothal as a dowry. The coin not only had considerable real value but also a lot of sentimental value. She had to look very diligently to find it. She swept the floors, got out  a lamp, and looked everywhere. When she found it, like the shepherd, she called together her family, friends, and neighbors to rejoice with her. Of course, the parables are telling the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus came to save lost sinners and restore them to their relationship with God and other people.

The incident and the parables are really about the law and the gospel. God gave what was called the Torah to Moses at Mt. Sinai to inform the Israelites about God’s nature and how He wanted people to live, and about His values. Torah means “instruction” or “teaching” and it was flexible and needed sermons like the ones in Deuteronomy to explain it and apply it to individual cases. It changed to fit individual circumstances as is seen in the Pentateuch. After the exile in Babylon, Ezra, who was a scribe and an official of the Persian government in charge of religious matters in the Persian province of Palestine, handed down a set of rules to the returning exiles as a strict law which would define the people as the Jewish nation. This proclamation of the law in about 430 B.C. constituted the nation of Judah and the Jews. God’s instructions given at Sinai had become rigid law that punished violators mercilessly. Ezra realized that the sins of the Israelites was the cause of the exile and this law that he imposed on them was needed to correct the matter. This is what the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ time adhered to–a set of external rules that had little to do with love of God or neighbor. Jesus came to restore what we call the gospel which was God’s original intention and which was based on mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love. The conflict between the law as handed down  by Ezra and added to by  the Pharisees and scribes as the “tradition of the elders” on the one hand and the gospel as intended by God and taught by Jesus on the other is what led to the rulers of the Jews condemning Jesus and crucifying Him. They saw Him as claiming to be divine in amending the law as they knew it and accused Him of blasphemy. There is profound irony in the fact that the rulers of a nation based on law should have crucified the Lord and Ruler of the world for the  violation of the real intent of that law. But, of course, the crucifixion, unjust as it was, fulfilled God’s purpose to defeat Satan and free God’s people from their sin and to make the Holy Spirit available to them. Thus was the gospel established.

Memory Verse: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free fro the law of sin and death (Rm 8.2).

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