Proper 19(C): Our Crazy, Loving God
By: Chris Clow
The fifteenth chapter of Luke contains one of the most famous passages in all of the Gospels. Truly, the story of the Prodigal Son has continued to inspire millions ever since it was first told by Jesus himself.
Of course, that story starts on verse 11, and today we end on verse 10. Yes, much like Billy to his brother Alec Baldwin, we have the far less famous part of Luke 15 to reflect upon today. Yet, I think in order to understand the story of the Prodigal Son properly, we need to take the other two parables we hear today into better account, as it helps to show even further just what kind of a God we have.
When someone hears the Prodigal Son story, they (most likely) are left in awe at the great love of God that waits for us to return from our wanton lives of sin. Not a bad message. However, the parables that precede it make it clear that our reading of God’s love there doesn’t go far enough. The God we find in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin isn’t just a great lover ready to forgive.
This God is nuts. Completely crazy. You might say unbalanced. A bit wacko. This God is weird, and strange, and must have completely lost it.
Am I blaspheming here? Let’s look a bit further.
Let’s start with the parable of the lost coin, since—unless you grew up farming sheep—I think that one is probably the easiest for us to relate to. The coin the woman loses is essentially a day’s wage in Jesus’ day, so it’s not nothing. But come on—would it really be worth throwing a party and inviting over with your friends for this? Say you lost $50. If you suddenly found it again, you’d be happy sure, but you probably aren’t calling up your buddies and inviting them over to celebrate it. You might wind up spending more money than you found just to feed them! I know that if I had suddenly found a bunch of money I thought I lost, spending it wouldn’t be the first thought on my mind…ok, it would be, but I’m weak. For most people (I would wager) this isn’t prudent.
The lost sheep story is similar. I’m sure some of us have seen that beautiful, western image of Jesus holding a lamb over his shoulders and carrying it. A nice picture, to be sure. But come on, let’s think about this. If you’re watching a flock of 100 sheep, you’re probably not counting on keeping all of them by the time you get them to market. That’s a fair number of sheep, and come on, there are lots of things outside your control that are probably going to take some of them: disease, wolves, thieves. Sheep are fragile. If another sheep wanders off, it makes sense to just let it go. You put the others in harm’s way, not to mention your own livelihood, and you’re going to lose a few sheep anyhow. Why lose sleep over the one?
These stories always get depicted as signs of great love, but let’s be real. The “heroes” in these parables are crazy people. No one in their right mind is going to celebrate with all their friends when they find a coin worth a decent bit of money. No one who cares about their own wellbeing is going after a lost idiot sheep when you’ve still got 99 perfectly good sheep to focus on. These people are nuts. Completely crazy. You might say unbalanced. A bit wacko. They are weird, and strange, and must have completely lost it.
And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?
Jesus is constantly reminding us in Scripture and in our lives that our vision of God and what God wants for us is always too small. God doesn’t just love us. God is wacko, crazy, out-of-God’s-own-mind in love with each and every one of us, to the point where God will do something absolutely insane for us. And that’s what God is hoping we will dare to try as well.
What sparks these parables, and why we need to hear them, is found in verse 2:
“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”
How often do we mirror their thoughts and actions in our own lives? Even in my best moments, I still find myself looking down on others way too easily, wishing I could just not have to deal with them. As ministers, we need to draw boundaries (and most likely we aren’t very good at that), but we also need to be careful to not ignore those who otherwise might be lost. Are we truly willing to celebrate when a lost person is found again, or do we bemoan their presence with us? “Ugh – I can’t believe she’s back again.” “I hope he doesn’t talk to me this time.” Do we really strive to welcome everyone with open arms, or do we put up barriers or requirements to keep some people out—hoops to jump through, so they can prove they really want to be here? Do we extend that welcome to the Kingdom to everyone we see, or really more to those we like, those who are easier to get along with, those who we want to belong with? Don’t sinners and tax collectors do the same?
I think that is both the challenge and the good news of this passage today for me. I need to look more honestly at myself and recognize the times when I too easily sound just like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, looking down at some in the community, and thinking too highly of myself. But I can also rejoice that when I am an idiot just like this, and get to thinking too much of myself and too little of others, it’s at that time that the Master is leaving the rest of the flock behind to come after my wandering self again. Just like last time, and just like the next time, yet God still never fails to find me.
After all, our God is nuts. Completely crazy. You might say unbalanced. A bit wacko. This God is weird, and strange, and must have completely lost it.
For that, I am grateful.
Chris Clow is currently spending his days away from a more “professional” ministry for the ministry of feeding, cleaning, chasing after, and worrying about the new master in his house, Xavier Joseph Clow (born September 23, 2018). He and his family have just moved to Omaha, and are learning more and more about their new hometown. In the scant free time he has, he enjoys cooking for his family, watching his St. Louis Cardinals and Blues (Stanley Cup Champions!!!), and finding moments to relax with his wife, Emily Kahm.