‘There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15: 10).
The Lectionary Drafting Committee was blessed with a sense of dramatic flair (or at least rhetorical consistency) in choosing this week’s texts. They ring the changes on the theme of God’s delight in forgiveness, his burning desire for reconciliation. In the words of the Lenten collect, they show him as the one “whose glory it is always to have mercy.”
The Exodus lesson begins with one of the Bible’s most glaring tales of apostasy. While God is imparting the covenant to Moses on Sinai, the Israelites make a golden calf, and acclaim it as their true deliverer. The LORD is furious at their stiff-necked ingratitude and faithlessness. He is prepared to destroy them completely. But Moses cries out for mercy, appealing to the ancient promises, and God’s record of gracious help. “Change your mind, and do not bring disaster,” he cries, and the LORD relents.
St. Paul describes God’s mercy to him. He calls himself “foremost” of sinners. His former life of disgust for Jesus and hatred for his followers weighs heavily on his conscience. Jesus met him, confronted him with his errors. When he asked for forgiveness, it was freely offered — “grace overflowed” for him, to create faith and love. He is a living sign of the “patience of God” — his abundant offer of a second chance.
Jesus is looking for the lost. He takes great risks to search them out — like a shepherd who will not rest until the final sheep is found. The shepherd rejoices, he says, when he finds the sheep and must carry him home. He rejoices in a heavy burden, for a frightened sheep won’t walk back home. There is nothing more delightful to God than the repentance of sinners. There is nothing he won’t do to bring them home.
“It’s hard work making disciples in this neighborhood,” the inner-city pastor told me. His church’s program sends out buses to pick up needy folks all over town. There’s a meal, Bible study, games for the kids, the Eucharist. “They come here high, out of work, they don’t know the first thing about decorum. They need Jesus, and everything else at the same time. We can only handle fifty, but there could be a hundred of them here. We tried to get a couple suburban churches to come here and help out. We didn’t get much response.” Maybe we don’t rejoice in the burden as Jesus does.
Look It Up
Read Heb.12:1-2. Might the parable’s description of the risktaking but rejoicing shepherd gesture towards the atonement?
Think About It
Is your congregation merely “welcoming” to the lost, or is it taking risks seeking them out and bringing them home?