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A sheep and a coin are lost. Their owners go to great lengths to find them, a shepherd, and a housewife.  Going to the heart of these stories, the shepherd and the woman play the part of God.   And here Jesus tells us what the parables are about: lost sinners are found and God and the angels in heaven rejoice. We might note in both stories the result is the same; both the shepherd and the woman invite all their neighbours, everyone without qualification, to “Rejoice with me, for I have found [that which] was lost.” There is more joy over one sinner who is found than any 99 who have no need for repentance.

 There are lessons for all who truly listen to what’s going on here. For what we have is a story of God’s unstoppable goodness – God’s unstoppable love and compassion for all people, all creatures, and all creation itself. We are to note the great risk the shepherd takes in leaving the 99 in the wilderness while he pursues his search for the one who is lost – because as anyone who knows anything at all about sheep can tell you, when he gets back they will be as good as gone! Yet he still throws a party for everyone, which no doubt will cost him more than the value of the one sheep he has spent all his energy to find! Perhaps neither the tax collectors nor the sinners are lost, except in the narrow eyes and stereotyping of the scribes and Pharisees.

Similarly, the woman will have had to set aside all her daily household chores. She disrupts the world of her home – and, as extended families tended to live in several attached buildings or tents, the daily life of those in her whole family – just to find the one coin that may not in itself cover the cost for the block and neighbourhood party she throws to rejoice!

What these stories are meant to do, by Jesus’ own interpretation, is to contrast the value system of Jesus’ challengers with that of heaven and God and the angels whom Jesus represents. And although the challengers object to the presence of tax collectors and sinners, surely even they would rejoice at one of those who turns, repents, and is found.

Given that Jesus says, “Let those with ears to hear listen,” is it too much to presume that the very presence of tax collectors and sinners who come to listen have made a first step in turning, in repenting? We would be remiss not to note that the parables are in part Jesus’ way of responding to the objections of his challengers in such a way that they might listen and hear – that they might know that there is still room for repentance to let go of stereotyping others who are not at all like them.

In a world in which demeaning others has become the commonplace, can we place ourselves in this crowd of tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, and scribes and listen to what is being said?  Because the witness of the Biblical story from Genesis to Revelation is that our God is indeed relentlessly compassionate, pursuing us even when we are at our worst.

As the scribes and Pharisees alleged, Jesus did associate with tax collectors and sinners. That accusation can still be made against Jesus. He continues to associate with weak and sinful people – Jesus associates with us. That happens at every Mass as we gather at the table of the Lord. It happens each time a sinner is welcomed home in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It happens each time Christians gather in his name.
When it comes to being accused of associating with sinners, Jesus is guilty as charged! 

For the acceptance of God’s mercy, love, and compassion requires us all to turn, to change, to repent of all thoughts and behaviours that stereotype and demean others, our salvation is a gift from that power that is much greater than we are. And these stories are talking of the salvation of our whole community, the whole world, united in rejoicing that we have all finally turned and abandoned all rhetoric of exclusion!

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