Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Where Is He?

Now let us pseudo-randomly turn to Luke 15. Thank you.

What do we find here? He’s at it again! Here’s Jesus once again with sinners and tax collectors gathered around him. Sinners and occupier-sanctioned thieves. So your general purpose sinners and your very specific kind of sinners. And the Pharisees pointing their fingers, saying, “This man is not one of us. He is unclean. He associates with sinners. He not only associates with them but enjoys their company! And he even eats with them! He even enjoys himself in the homes of sinners!” Or something like that.

Please notice that he was not an unwelcome guest among these people. These people did not throw him out of their homes. They invited him in. They naturally were drawn to him as he made his way around the country-side or around town.

What pastor or priest or minister who you know spends a lot of time with people who. How shall I put this? Who are foul, morally speaking? Who are obviously and morally odious?

In our time, who would such people be? People who are obviously odious? Morally? In your church community or the surrounding community today, who would these people be? Would they be the well-to-do people in your church? The people who dress well and drive late model cars? Would they be the people who take pride in their possessions, in their stature in the community, in their talents, in their gifts? Would they be the overweight people in your church? Would they be the people who are prone to getting angry, maybe about a particular set of political issues or social concerns? Would they be people who seem to like to talk about other people, their short-comings in particular?

No, certainly not. All these people are sinners. No doubt about it. But these are the acceptable sinners. These people engage in acceptable sins. Sins of greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, and pride. Five of the so-called seven deadly sins. And I get the sense that the Pharisees overlooked these sins also in their time. In fact, I get the sense that people who exhibited some of the indicators of greed and pride were just as highly regarded in the first century as they are now.

No, today, the odious sinners are the people who are homosexual (in some circles), who like to have sex with children, who are thieves, who are murderers, who are rapists, who are prostitutes, who are illegal immigrants (in some circles), who are on some form of dole (in some circles), who are frequently and flagrantly inebriated (from alcohol or drugs), and who are homeless. This is an incomplete list. I’m sure you can think of others.

Who does Jesus like speaking with? Spend his time with? The Pharisees or the odious sinners? What sorts of people do our pastors, ministers, and priests spend their time with? Acceptable sinners or odious sinners?

How about you? You believer priests out there? Who do you spend your time with, your ministry time, let’s say?

Me? I must say that I don’t minister to odious sinners. Right now, I’m involved with hospice. But maybe I should. Maybe I should do something with. Specifically with. But I don’t know. We’ll see.

So. So, Luke 15. Once again, this chapter is divided into three parts. Isn’t that interesting? Threes again! Any numerologists out there? Interpretation?

As I say, three parts: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, and The Parable of the Lost Son.

Has anyone shared with you the primary rule of dramaturgy: Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them?

So each of these stories is about finding something that was lost and its restoration. And the tonality. Notice the tonality. In the first story, the shepherd rejoices. In the second story, the woman rejoices. In the third story, the father rejoices. These are stories about rejoicing. About celebration. About a discovery or a recovery that leads to celebration.

This business of finding the lost and restoring them isn’t a chore, then. It isn’t a job. It isn’t a duty. It’s a joy. Isn’t it? According to Jesus.

Odious sinners aren’t people to be put up with. Tolerated. Politely ignored. They are people to be sought after. Looked for. Invited in. Drawn in. And restored.

I won’t bore you with all of the usual stuff pastors and believer priests say about the story of the lost son. I’ll confine myself to just some of the usual stuff.

What I will say is that the story is about the contrast between the father and the older brother. And between the older brother and the younger brother.

The father rejoices, and the older brother becomes angry. Resentful. This older brother is not a profligate sinner. He is a scrupulous sinner. His sin is not flagrant. It is subtle. His sin is not self-destructive in any obvious way. It is mean-spirited and spiteful and potentially destructive of his brother.

Why did the younger brother leave in the first place, with a father like this? With a set-up like this? With servants like these? This is a rich family. What would have caused the younger brother to feel uncomfortable in a place like this? Could he have gotten fed up with his older brother? Or could he have gotten the message from the older brother that he was not wanted in the older brother’s house? That he was an unwelcome intruder? I don’t know. We aren’t given enough information to know how this came about. But my thinking tends in this direction. Motivation to some extent residing in the older brother.

The father is, of course, a buffoon. He’s clueless, isn’t he? He doesn’t understand tough love, does he? He’s probably never heard of tough love. He probably doesn’t know what it means. He’s a sap. A pushover. A rube. A simpleton. He doesn’t understand generally accepted accounting principles as applied to sin. GAAP as applied to sin.

The older brother is what many of us look like when we try to be perfect. Or when we think we are fairly close to being perfect. Close enough for government work.

The father is what we look like when all we seem to know how to do is love.

The hearts of all of these characters are in all of us. The tonality of all these characters. The capacity to feel like them. To act like them. The immediate question for us is, which tonality do we wish to call forth? Which of these characters’ hearts do we want to be our heart?

And if we choose the father (or mother) (or shepherd) heart of God, of course, the next question is: How do we go about finding that tonality? How do we begin to feel that way toward others?

Which others?

All others. Particularly the odious ones.

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