The Lost Sheep: Funny Jesus, Reckless God
24th Sunday, Year C
I was warned that no one's going to listen to the homilies for a couple of weeks because they're gonna be staring up and checking out the ceiling and stuff like that. That's okay I'm used to you doing that anyway. Just kidding! Just kidding!
I'm not going to say a lot about it right now just because I want to talk more about it entirely on the feast day of St. Wenceslaus on our Fall Festival day, in two more weeks. I'll have all the homilies on that day, but I just want to point out because people, I know, are going to ask this first: they're gonna ask "Who's who?".
The guy in green? Not St. Patrick. No matter what Pat Burke tells you. That's not St. Patrick, all right? It's that St. Methodius—over here as well. Next to him is his brother, Cyril—over here as well. All right. They're the ones who brought the faith to all the Slavic peoples: Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Russians, Ukrainians etc. Right. St. Ludmila's family received the Faith from them and she became a Christian. She's on the far left with the palm. She is the grandmother to St. Wenceslaus, who is next to her.
Then you cross to the other side. The young man at the top is St. Vitus, who is not Czech and he's not even from this timeframe. He's from the early persecutions, the Roman persecutions, but it was his bones that the Pope sent to St. Wenceslaus when he said, "I want to build a cathedral." And he said here then build it on these relics. And that's why the main cathedral in Prague is St. Vitus Cathedral. All right. Then next to him is St. John Nepomucene. So, we see him over here—always with the finger over the mouth. He is the one who refused to share the Queen's confession and died as a martyr for the seal of confession. Then below him —now we are scooting into the High Middle Ages here— is Agnes of Bohemia. I'll tell you more about her later. She's got a pretty cool story. And then finally Bishop St. John Neumann is next to her and John Neumann is actually named for John Nepomucene. He's John Nepomucene Neumann. So they all kind of pull together in that way.
And one last thing I know many will have questions on this too: People are like, "What about the middle? Isn't there like a big spot there?" There is. That's where the high altar goes. Right. So by Christmas time you won't have that problem that feeling like there's a missing tooth and your tongue keeps finding it. You won't have that visual allegory anymore. You'll have a very large white tooth.
All right. So hopefully that catches everyone up on that.
Jesus is funny. Jesus is really funny sometimes. And usually we don't actually acknowledge his humor. We are very focused on keeping Jesus as Lord and Son of God. And so we either miss the humor altogether or even if we kind of caught it, we assume, "Well that's surely not what Jesus means. Jesus doesn't crack jokes. That's not what he's doing."
Except when he does. Except when Jesus actually makes a joke.
Today's gospel not only has one of Jesus' clearest jokes in it, the joke being a joke is actually pretty essential to the entire point of the story. And what's nice about this one is that it's not like a pun that would require us to know Hebrew or Greek or anything like that. Even as the story is told it makes perfect sense.
If you want to look you can follow on on page 52. You don't have to. Most of you know this story pretty well, but on page 52 is the parable here.
So we have the parable of The Lost Sheep and that's where the joke is. This is in Luke, Ch. 15. Luke 15 is all about lost things. The three lost things: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. You might have noticed in the missalette that there was a longer option that includes all three. But we also hear the parable of The Lost Son, the prodigal son, in the season of Lent also. And it is likely the masterpiece of Luke's Gospel, so I didn't want to have that read today and have it overshadow the sheep that we're focusing on, and even the coin.
So back to the one in the ninety-nine, back to the sheep. Some of you might have caught it before. Some even now, looking down at the book and knowing that Father is saying there's some humor in here, might have just spied what the joke is or what the humor is.
So the scribes and the Pharisees are complaining, right? They're complaining about who Jesus hangs out with. And we're told that they drew near, they're drawing near. So in other words, Jesus is already teaching or hanging out, or whatever. He's probably seated and they come up and they pose this question. Which means there's a mixed audience, right? You've got a very sympathetic crowd, people that Jesus is normally preaching to, disciple types, and they are listening and liking it. Now we have this somewhat hostile challenge coming in from the scribes and the Pharisees who are saying, "Why do you eat with sinners and tax collectors?" And then we can presume there might even be some of those very tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes scattered through the crowd that's listening to this conversation.
So it's a mixed crowd. This is not the time to pick a fight. (Jesus will at other times, but not here.) But rather this is a time to get everyone to think about this question anew: Who should we sit with? Who should we fraternize with? Who are our friends, and who do we hang out with? And so to do that, he breaks the tension initially. And so the opening line is comical. And he delivers it with full irony so that they catch that it's comedic.
He says, "What man among you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?"
"What man among you wouldn't do this?".
Right, you can almost kind of picture his smile kind of curling up as he says this, right: "Who wouldn't do this?"
And of course you know we know the answer that.
If he were saying it today he might say it differently. He might say: "What man among you, having hooked his tee shot over into the lake, wouldn't leave his bag and his five hundred dollar clubs by the tee box and dive into the lake to get that ball?"
Or if he was addressing parents he might say: "What Mom among you, after your kid loses a Skittle —a yellow skittle, even!— wouldn't pull over the van and tear apart the back seat to return to retrieve that yellow skittle?".
Jesus said, "What man among you...?" The answer, of course, is none.
Nobody would've done that. That would have been that crazy. Nobody would be that stupid.
First of all, it's bad math. And with that, it's bad economics. It's just a bad cost-benefit analysis. He's going to leave ninety-nine, not just anywhere, but in the desert. (Sometimes translated "in the wilderness".) Even if they're not stolen, even if it's nothing that bad, they could get scattered throughout the desert. Or there's other dangers. I mean who knows how long he's gone. Are they going to starve? Or get attacked by wolves? We don't know.
And finally: if this sheep wandered off once, it's probably more likely to do it again than the other ninety-nine are likely to wander off. So it's just a horrible plan to go after the one.
Nobody is going to choose the one sheep.
Nobody is gonna tear apart the van and dig out the yellow skittle.
To say nothing of the rest. Right?— the rest of [parable]: Now he takes it "when he finds it, and he puts it on his shoulders with great joy."
Sure glad I searched for you for four days....stupid lamb! Right?
"And upon his arrival home he calls together his friends and neighbors," implying throwing a party and says, "Hey check it out, my idiot lamb came back! Oh, no, wait, I had to go find it, let me think about that."
You know, it's just not going to happen. So, going back to his crowd and how he's talking to them: Jesus knows this. The crowd, both disciples and skeptics, know this. So Jesus doesn't answer the question: "Hey, this man welcomes sinners and tax collectors. Why? Why is it okay for you to sit with them?" Instead he cracks a joke. He throws out a scenario that no one would remotely consider, and then he plays the [comedian] by asking, "Which one of you wouldn't do this?" I mean, it's not stand up. This isn't like Jim Gaffigan or Chris Rock or anything like that. You know, he's not making people howl with laughter.
But he would have gotten a good chuckle out of it. It's disarming. And they could all laugh and say, " Haha. Yup. Nobody would have done that," and appreciate the little play that he just did [with them].
We need Jesus to be in our minds asking that question sarcastically when we read it, and hear it like they probably heard it to get what has happened there.
But then things change. Right?
After he disarms and gets everyone saying, "Yeah! Nobody would do that! That's crazy!" then he flips the whole thing over. Because he says,"That analogy that you just laughed at?—that's how the kingdom of God is."
He says, "I tell you, in just the same way, there'll be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance."
So having made it abundantly clear that nobody would do this. No sensible person would do this. Nobody would ever act like that, he says, "But our God does. The God of Israel does. He's been with you through the desert when you were at your most rebellious, when the sheep were running away right and left. When, over thousands of years you have not been able to follow him, and you refuse to follow him.
Stiff necked people.
And your God comes for you.
And I am here: your God in a body. I am here to continue that work. I'm here to show you that, yes, this God will go after the one. He'll even risk the ninety-nine. He's coming after the one. And there'll be greater rejoicing for that one.
So, he gets them disarmed. He gets them thinking a certain way. Then he flips that table and says, "But your God is different. Your God doesn't make a cost-benefit analysis." Otherwise he would have never gone to the cross. Right?
"Your God is not thinking like that. He doesn't think like men do. He thinks in his own thoughts.
And his thoughts are.... generous, overabundant, ridiculous love. Ridiculous generosity and charity. Patience. Mercy for us.
Because we will all at some point be "the one", who wanders away, and he says, "The God you have, the God I come in the name of, he is that God. He's the crazy guy who would jump into the lake, who would tear apart the van, who would leave the ninety-nine in the desert to come find you—specifically you, tax collector, sinner, prostitute— he's coming for you. Because he's a crazy in love, head over heels, generous, patient, charitable kind of God.