The themes set for us in today’s first reading and in today’s Gospel are both very familiar to many of us. If we analyze them I think we can find an inner connectedness in the two Scripture passages.
Those of us who were active in the Episcopal Church or in any part of the Anglican Communion in the 1960s, as I was in Japan, might recognize the theme that came out of the first verse of the reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
“Mutual Responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ” was the theme of the 1964 Anglican Congress. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord, so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom. 14:7-8) In other words we are interconnected one with another to endeavor to find ways to help one another at home and in other parts of the Church and the world.
The two parables that were read from the 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel just now are part of a series of three parables. Many years ago I learned that they could be called, “the three lost things;” the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. We are not so much concerned today with the third parable, sometimes called “the parable of the father’s love”. In these first two the emphasis is on the rescuing of that which had been lost.
First we should consider the fact that Jesus chose things as examples for his parables that were well known to his hearers. Many of those who heard Jesus tell those parables either kept sheep, or were familiar with the sheep kept by neighbors or friends. All of them would be familiar with the dark, windowless interior of a Palestinian house, and with the way in which someone; in this case an older woman could go into a panic if she thought even one of her carefully guarded coins was missing. It should also be remembered that the context of these parables was just after some Pharisees and scribes had been heard grumbling about the way in which Jesus welcomed tax collectors and those whom they considered sinners, and ate with them. By telling these parables Jesus was trying to demonstrate how everyone was equally precious in the sight of God. This can also be seen this week in the Church Calendar by the fact that All Saints’ Day is followed by the feast of All Souls to honor those we have loved who have departed this earthly life.
The parables that were read from today’s Gospel were focused on the joy in heaven over one sinner who repented. The first parable ended with joy over finding the lost sheep contrasted with “ninety-nine righteous persons who needed no repentance.” We can make the assumption from this that when the one lost sheep was found both the shepherd and the flock were equally joyous that the lost sheep had been returned. It is only a short jump from there to Paul’s theme that we do not live only to ourselves, or as he wrote in the last verse, “each of us will be accountable to God.” (Rom. 14:12)
That theme of accountability to God and mutual responsibility towards one another became very familiar to those active in the Church in the 1960s. But we can also find it in the writings of the 17th Century poet and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, John Donne. In a devotion inspired by the custom of tolling the church bell whenever someone had died John Donne wrote, “No man is and island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontories were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any [one’s] death diminishes me, because I am involved in [humankind]. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” (From “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions”, by John Donne, London, 1624 p. 419)
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