When reading this Sunday’s gospel lesson (Luke 15:1-10), don’t forget to whom Jesus is talking.
“All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable.”
There were two groups surrounding Jesus. One group—those labeled by Luke as the sinners—was coming because they were welcomed by a popular religious authority in a way they had usually been ignored by the religious elites. The other group—the religious elites—was upset because Jesus was giving so much attention to the people they refused to welcome. Jesus, looking at the disparate crowd of ins and outs, told them these parables.
As yourself two questions: 1) “When I hear this parable, which group do I think of myself belonging to?” and 2) “How would I hear this parable if I thought of myself belonging to the other group?”
Radical inclusion is always nice if you’re standing on the outside, looking for an invitation. But it isn’t so much fun if you’re already at the dance party when the doors are thrown wide open and the masses start streaming in.
The message, I think, is two-fold. In some real sense, all of us are lost and are being sought by the God who loves us. Even though most of the people I see in church on Sunday already have their dance card punched, we are all lost in one way or another. We all need to be found. At the same time, however, we resist the limitlessness of God’s welcome. Grace is wonderful when it’s for me and the people I like. But, when God is searching out the people I’d rather stay hidden, I am threatened. That which makes me feel special—the party that the woman throws for me, the lost coin—loses its shine.
I need both. I need the gospel to remind me that God is searching for me, and I need the gospel to remind me that God is searching for everyone who is lost. As a part of God’s church, how am I reflecting both? How are we reminding the world both that all are sought by God and that it is only through God’s seeking of us—the Church—that we have any identity at all?