If we obey God it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that
is where the sting comes in. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost
us anything, it is a delight, but it costs those who do not love Him a good deal.
Oswald Chambers ‘My Utmost for his Highest’, January 11.
Today’s quotation is taken from Oswald Chambers, an English Baptist minister who lived from 1874 until 1917. He died at the ripe young age of 43 when serving as a chaplain to the Royal Army in Egypt, died of appendicitis because he refused to take a bed that was intended, he was sure, for the wounded soldiers of the Battle of Gaza. Before he died, he left us with numerous works, including his famous My Utmost for His Highest. In it, amongst other gems, he reminds us that Christian Discipleship costs those who do not love [Christ] a great deal, and that this is where the pain begins. (Idem)
I have opened with these remarks because I believe that the dangers of false Discipleship are everywhere present in this morning’s Gospel lesson. In it, we read that Then drew near unto [Jesus] all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. (St. Luke xv. 1,2) On the one side, we find the publicans and sinners, and on the other the Pharisees and Scribes. So we have those who need what Jesus has to offer and against them the self-righteous religious Jews who judge Him for keeping company with them. Nestled in between the two groups are, as always, the Apostles who are called to glean the truth from what Jesus will have to say to the publicans and sinners. So Jesus, reading the censorious thoughts of the religious and pious Jewish Elders, offers two parables. What is interesting about the parables is that Jesus uses them to address all his listening audience. The teaching to be gleaned from them is to alert the Apostles and us to the dangers that threaten to ruin the religion of good people.
So, Jesus asks, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Ibid, 4-6) An Australian scientific study done in 2012 concludes that sheep are selfish animals which congregate towards a safe center. (Flock and Awe…) When one errs and strays from the sheepfold, the shepherd must set out to find it. Sheep are not only selfish but stupid. They don’t realize when one of their own goes missing. And, presumably, they don’t care. Provided they are together and safe, they are happy enough. The lost sheep is missed only by the shepherd, who rejoices when he finds it.
Jesus teaches us the parable in order to point us to the character of spiritual shepherds and spiritual sheep. The Pharisees and Scribes, presumably well-positioned through moral education and application to be good shepherds, are more like selfishly safe and contented sheep. The limitations of their ministry are revealed throughout the life of Our Lord. Those who were called to be religious pastors and shepherds to bring the sinful into the righteousness of the Law have become a brood of vipers whose chief claim to fame is cherishing the limited moral purity they possess and protecting it against any threat of contamination through contact with publicans and sinners. As Archbishop Trench remarks, they had neither love to hope the recovery of such, nor yet antidotes to preserve themselves while making the attempt. (N.O.P’s. p.286)
The publicans and sinners are clearly more like the lost sheep in need of a shepherd’s love and care. The shepherd returns home with the lost sheep while the ninety and nine remain in the sheepfold not noticing that anything has happened. Special care and more individual attention are afforded to the lost sheep. The lost sheep is a symbol of fallen man, knowing he is lost and needs to be found, or who knows that he needs a shepherd to rescue and save him. Jesus says, I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. (St. Luke, Ibid, 7) Clearly then, the parable that Jesus teaches rebukes the self-righteous Pharisees who think that they are good enough. A true Disciple of Christ will be more like the publicans and sinners, who need what Jesus Christ has to offer. And what He has to offer is something far greater than any limited moral human goodness that sets us apart not only from sin but also from sinners, whose company, we believe, only stands to corrupt us.
Jesus elaborates with another parable. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. (Ibid, 8,9) In Jesus’ day silver coins were stamped with the image of Caesar, much like our coins are stamped with the image of various past Presidents. The point is that the image of the king on the coin points to a greater value symbolized in the parable. Men are made in the image and likeness of God, and so the lost coin that the woman recovers in the second parable symbolizes God the Father’s most precious possession, His human children, whom He seeks to find and reconcile to Himself. He does so by the good shepherd, His own Son, Jesus Christ, whom He sends into the world to sweep the house [of the fallen creation], until [He] finds sin-sick souls. Again, as with the first parable, the woman rejoices when she finds what she has lost, and so there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Ibid, 10) The true Disciple of Christ realizes not only that he has erred and strayed from the right way of God but is sought out and found precisely because, despite his sin, He remains forever a precious treasure to God.
Of course, for the Pharisees and Scribes, the truth contained in Jesus’ parables fell on deaf ears. And this, not because they were wholly devoid and destitute of holiness and goodness. In so far as they followed the Law, they were obedient unto God. But the problem for them was that they did not realize that the Law of Moral Goodness can never save a man. Unfortunately, the Law inevitably divides publicans and sinners from good people. The Pharisees and Scribes were self-consciously better than others and remarkably unconscious of their need for a Saviour. What they could not see in the publicans and sinners was their own sin, that they were lost sheep or even a lost coin of great price. Thus, their pride prevented them from seeing that Jesus ate and drank with publicans and sinners precisely because the latter knew that they were lost sheep in need of a Good Shepherd who could find and save them forever.
When we discover ourselves to be publicans and sinners who have been lost and found by Jesus Christ, the Pharisees and Scribes of this world will lose us. No longer will they be able look down upon us with their treasure of contempt and ridicule. For, with St. Peter in this morning’s Epistle, we are becoming subject to our fellow men, clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. (1 St. Peter v. 5) We are humbling [ourselves]…under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt [us] in due time. (Ibid, 6) The humility that allows us to be found by Jesus the Good Shepherd, reveals our utter dependence upon God’s healing Grace. We share the same dreadful disease of sin with publicans and sinners. St. Peter says, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, seeing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. (Ibid, 8,9) The Christian Disciple must suffer the fact that like a stupid sheep, he will always be tempted to get lost. He suffers too as a potentially lost coin who forgets his value to God and the price that was paid to redeem that value, once for all, by Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. As true Disciples, we must confess that we are the chief, the chief, the greatest of sinners, who are spiritually lost and in need of a shepherd who calls not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (St. Luke v. 30)
Our obedience to Jesus Christ is free and should become our delight. It will cost others a great deal. (Idem) They will lose the power they held over us and will persecute us. Our gain is greater. Let us fervently believe that we were once lost but now are in the process of being found by Jesus Christ. Let us remember that we are no better than our brethren that are in the world and that we are in danger of being much worse should we elevate ourselves above them by reason of our religion or piety. Our Heavenly Father will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. ii. 4) Our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. (St. Matthew v. 20) The Good Shepherd or Saviour we need his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes [we] were healed. (1 Peter ii. 24) Salvation is free for us; it cost God the Father a great deal. Oswald Chambers asks the Christian this:
Who of us would dare to stand before God [on Judgment Day] and say, ‘My God, judge me as I have judged my fellow men’? We, [with the Pharisees and Scribes] judge our fellow men as sinners; if God should judge us like that, we should all end up in Hell. (Ibid, June 22) God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble. (1 Peter v. 5)
With all men, let us find ourselves as Christ’s lost and found. Then, there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God (Luke xv. 10), to whom, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux suggests, the tears of all penitents is angelic wine.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons