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The early church emerged from a monocultural grouping of Jewish followers of Jesus into a multicultural gathering of people across racial, class and cultural barriers to gathered in a shared hope and trust in Jesus as the Lord of all things. Undoubtedly the church had tension, dissension and disagreement (that’s what most of the epistle, letters written by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament deal with). Something in our human nature pushes us to competition and judgment, rejecting or suspecting what’s different than us as threatening, inferior or to-be-avoided. In his life, and among his own tribe of people Jesus also encountered such thinking which isn’t that different than the cultural problems that punctuate our society and threaten our stability today.
Chapter 15 is a set of 3 parables spoken into to context of trouble at table, where the “better off” grumble and mumble at being associated with the “less off” (or sinners). The story seems to be about living in bubbles or silos and how that impedes us from seeing what God has both created and calls us to experience, know and love.
It all starts with Jesus have a meal with Pharisees, Scribes (the upper crust) and also Tax Collectors and “sinners” (the hoi polloi, neither spiritual nor religious, collaborators). He’s criticized for associating with such deplorables. It was normal and expected for the well-off to give food to the poor and marginalized. But eating with them was a connotation of equality, unity, and community. That was just too much. They were to be tolerated and helped, but not associated with, invited in and given a place a the table.
Jesus responds to their mumbling and grumbling with three parables about lost things: a sheep, a coin, and a son (or maybe it’s sons?). When each lost thing is found there is a communal celebration. A large flock of sheep most likely was jointly owned by the whole village. Coins were rare and precious in a society based on barter. Children and families were part of a larger extended family including cousins, neighbors and fellow villagers. The loss is for the whole community (as well as the principal person – the shepherd concerned, the woman and the father). Jesus is lifting up a connection between all people through the love and purpose of God. He seems to imply that if one is lost, we all are lost. If one is found we all are – more than ample reason to celebrate and be grateful. The parables are told to foster a deeper sense of community and belonging, the importance of each person created in the image of God.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
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