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March 31, 2019

“Count on God: Exponentially Grace-filled”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Luke 15.1-32

March 31, 2019

A few weeks ago, I lost my keys. I searched my office, I searched my house, I searched my pockets and bags, but couldn’t find it. I scanned the house, up and down, quickly becoming panicked. I ran through my day, remembering where I last saw them, and became frustrated when they didn’t turn up. After all roads were dead ends, I decided to look more closely at the place where we kept the keys. I looked behind the table, and saw that the keys were behind it. A miracle! I had merely tossed my keys too far. A few days later, coincidentally, I read in a magazine that hopping on your foot when you put something down helps you to remember where you put it. Your mind remembers: “Oh! You jumped up and down in that area and that was unusual! That is where you left your keys!” Though, I knew that wouldn’t have helped me, because jumping up and down wouldn’t have told me: “You jumped up and down here, and you accidentally threw them too far!” Our minds can remember many things, but sometimes we cannot rely on our minds to bring back something that is missing, especially a human or God.

As we spend forty days searching for God it is wholly appropriate that our scripture passage be about searching – for a lost sheep, a coin, a sinner, a son. We have all lost something at some point in our lives: keys, pocket change, glasses. Of course, sometimes the item is misplaced and you find it. The different levels of attachment also play into whether or not we look for the item. We lost loose change? Often we leave it. Sometimes we do not even realize we lost it because we didn’t need it or use it often enough to notice it missing.

Then there are things that we won’t stop searching for: wallets, keys, that precious children’s toy that makes them happy and stop crying. Whatever it is, we don’t sleep or eat or do anything until it is found and the universe is back to normal. This is how the people in our parables function, searching relentlessly.

We begin the passage with Jesus eating with the sinners and tax collectors. The entire symbolism of his eating with outcasts shows the great inclusivity of God.[1] Our communion is an inclusive meal, just like Jesus intended. We welcome all to the table. This causes the Pharisees to grumble.

Who are the outcasts in our world? Is it the poor? Is it undocumented immigrants? Is it the uneducated? Think about who is marginalized in our society – those we find reason to dislike. One commentator stated that the people Jesus ate with had “deliberately opted out of membership with the covenantal people of Israel.”[2] This gave me pause. Did they deliberately choose not to be in the covenant? Consider our society. Do people of color deliberately choose to be in low paying jobs and live in low-income housing? Do people who have lived in poverty for generations choose to continue to live in poverty? In some ways, perhaps they do choose this – in that when given the option to live in low-income housing or the streets, they choose the low-income housing. When the options aren’t great because of oppression from the privileged, then one must choose the lesser of two evils. The sinners and tax collectors may have chosen not to be part of the covenant group – but why did they choose that? What was their alternative?

Jesus tells three parables, which were stories that had meanings that were not always obvious. The first parable is about a shepherd and one hundred sheep. One is missing and the shepherd goes after that sheep. When it is found, there is rejoicing. The second parable tells of a woman who had ten coins, loses one, and when she finds it, she rejoices. We might separate these two from the third one for a moment. While there are similarities, and Jesus supposedly told them together, these two are slightly different from the third. In the first two is an emphasis on the responsibility of the owner or guardian.[3] The shepherd and the woman take initiative to look for these items, putting everything else on hold. The shepherd does not expect the sheep to wander back, nor does the woman expect the coin to fall into her lap.

Then we hear the parable of the prodigal son. While it is best known as the prodigal son, Jesus actually introduces it as the parable of two sons.[4] He tells the story of both sons, not just one. The younger son asks for an early inheritance, spends it, and regrets it when there is a famine. We do not know how old he is, but we might guess late teens, early twenties. Studies have shown that the brain isn’t fully developed until about age twenty-five. That means that anyone under that age has difficulty seeing long term effects or outcomes or consequences. We can’t blame all mistakes youth make on an undeveloped brain, but it does shed some light into some actions. The young man recognizes that he has made a mistake and returns to his father. The word for “repent” also can mean “start thinking straight.”[5] There is a saying some schools are using now: are you using your lizard brain or your wizard brain? The idea is that the lizard brain is your fight or flight part – the automatic part that does well with automatic rewards. The wizard brain takes more effort and sees long term. He started using his wizard brain instead of his lizard brain. Sometimes we think too much with our lizard brain.

The older son is the one who has done everything “right.” He has worked for his father, asked for no special treatment, and has been diligent all along. He is frustrated when the father throws this party for the one who ran away with all the inheritance. Where’s his party?! Yet, maybe this parable is even more about the father. The father is generous and responds kindly and lovingly to both. He sees that these two sons are very different. Maybe he can recognize that they are using different parts of their brains, and their personalities are different, and that their needs are different. The difference is the difference between equity and equality. This weekend a friend described to me the best explanation I’ve ever heard of equality and equity. Equality means everyone has shoes. Equity means everyone has shoes that fit. Equity to two children does not mean the same – it means finding their needs and meeting them in different ways. This father knows this on some level. God knows this about us. God knows that we do not all need the same gifts and that we all are different.

The father in the passage waits for the son. He is hopeful. He doesn’t go out looking for the son, but he was waiting. Unlike the first two parables, he waits passively. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t care as much as the shepherd or the woman, but that he understands the situation is different. Imagine if the father had gone out before the son started working with the pigs. The son may not have “started thinking straight” yet, or realized how much he needed his relationship with his father, and would have pushed him away farther.

Which are the Pharisees? Are they the shepherds or the sheep? Are they the woman, or the coin? The older son or the younger son? Which are you? Justo Gonzalez writes: “Pharisees and scribes would be unlikely to identify themselves with the lost sheep that the shepherd rescues or the lost son whose father awaits.”[6] We want to be the obedient son. We want to be the shepherd or woman. Yet, sometimes we are the coin, slipping through the cracks. Sometimes we are the sheep, wandering away aimlessly. Sometimes we are the younger son, outright denying our parent and looking for our own path. Gonzalez goes on: “Lent invites us to count ourselves continually among both groups.”[7] We have an opportunity to look at this passage from all sides and examine our lives. Lent is a time to discern how we have wandered from God – slowly, and unaware, quickly and quietly, or outright turning away. God is looking for us, waiting for us. Let us turn to God and be thankful for God’s grace. Amen.


[1] Eric Franklin, “Luke” in The Oxford Bible Commentary, eds. John Barton and John Muddiman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 947.

[2] Ibid., 947.

[3] Ibid., 947

[4] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 159.

[5] Franklin, 947.

[7] Ibid., 18.