All of us have had that common experience of losing something and spending hours searching for it. It is part of our human makeup. It transcends cultures and languages and is linked with the limitations of the human mind. This experience is the impetus for the 15th chapter of Luke’s gospel; something is lost and then it is found.
Today’s Gospel revisits the first two of the trilogy: a sheep and a coin. A single sheep gets lost. The owner goes looking for it. Upon finding it, the owner is filled with great joy. Notice here that it is not the shepherd of the sheep but the owner who goes looking for the lost sheep. Does this mean there is more joy if the owner finds the sheep than if an employee finds it?
The owner has a greater vested interest. The second story is so much like the first. Instead of it being a sheep that is lost, this time the lost object is a coin. And like the first story, again there is tremendous joy. Much like the lost sheep, it is the one with the vested interest in what was lost which receives the reward of joy. Is this what we are supposed to take from this Gospel reflection?
I certainly think the theme of joy is worth reflecting on, but did you notice the deeper theme in this gospel? Luke doesn’t use this as a generic teaching of Jesus, nor does he use the phrase, “The kingdom of God is like…” Luke sets the scene up with people gathered around Jesus listening to him. Those who chose to encircle Jesus were classified as tax collectors and sinners. The first century understanding of sinner was someone who missed the mark, or even those who really didn’t have any place for the law of God in their life. So here are a group of people who never really grasped the religiousness of their lives. I suspect they didn’t care too greatly of what religious people thought of them. I can only imagine their enthusiasm as they are sitting around Jesus relating to him without feeling the imposition of the religious law. They are no longer excluded, they are now part of the inner conversation and the outsiders in this circle are the ones who have always had the religious voice. They must have been exuberant.
Luke merely says that the Scribes and Pharisees were complaining. Numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments reveal that the Divine isn’t very tolerant towards people who grumble and complain. In this case the complaining is directed at Jesus stemming from the company he kept. If you read between the lines can you pick up on the judgmentalism of the Pharisees and their lack of gratitude? Luke is clear. It was because of their complaining that Jesus speaks. What does he speak? He tells three parables about losing something and finding something. And he emphasizes the joy in the finding. It seems the judgmental complainers couldn’t recognize the joy in the eyes and faces of those they believed were beneath them.
What does this mean for us today? I think we can start with the simple questions. What do you grumble and complain about? Is the complaining keeping God from intervening? Perhaps this is an area of conversion in your life. If you are honest with yourself, how does grumbling and complaining fit with joy in your life? I believe it is part of Pope Francis’ wisdom that the poor have the ability to bring us redemption, even if it is only from our own grumbling.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.