Signpost for Sunday 11th September 2016 (24th Sunday in Ordinary Time): Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10.
On Tuesday morning this week I lost my i-Pad. It was a present from my overseas-based son, and contained an almost daily photographic and mini-video record of the development of my equally overseas-based infant grandson. A frantic search ensued, looking over and over again in the same places, and painful endeavours to recall when and where I had last used it. And then, on Wednesday evening, voila, it was found. What relief, wonder, joy! I did not throw a party, but did pour a glass of wine and open a bar of chocolate. A timely incident in the light of this week’s Gospel reading.
We have two little parables precursory to the longer, universally known, parable of the Prodigal Son, which is not included in today’s lectionary. The three parables are one unit. They are addressed to the Pharisees and Scribes who are grumbling and complaining at Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. Does Jesus show his fully human side in getting in a little dig when he addresses them directly: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep…”? They would have recoiled in horror at the thought of being accused of working with sheep. And again, is there an element of wry humour in the “ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”?
My i-Pad possibly equates to the lost coin. Both are inanimate objects that had no input into their loss and could make no contribution to their finding. The lost sheep, on the other hand, may have become lost through its own silliness, and probably bleated pitifully in the hope of attracting the attention of the searcher. The lost son in the third parable put his whole being first into becoming lost and then into realisation and repentance of his sin. The best he hoped for was reconciliation in a lesser relationship than he previously enjoyed, and was rewarded with total, overwhelming, redeeming love.
It is easy and commonplace to perceive the father of the prodigal as representing God. It is perhaps less obvious that He is also the shepherd, a person despised and outcast in the culture of the time, and the woman, a person of no standing. There aren’t too many examples in the Bible of God showing his feminine side – the mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing comes to mind. What is clear is that redemption cannot be earned: it comes freely to all through unimaginable Grace.