>This past Sunday’s Gospel comes from Luke in the fifteenth chapter. Jesus is teaching the crowds, to which sinners and tax collectors have arrived and this is upsetting to the local authority, the Pharisees and scribes. How dare they, these sinful people, join good, law-abiding citizens in hearing the teaching of Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth? Religion is for the good people, not sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes, actors, and women!
Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong!
What is important to God, Jesus says, is one repentant soul.
He goes on to tell the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Parables are stories used to teach, using the familiar. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” So Jesus tells the story of a shepherd who searches high and low for the one sheep that strays, the one that drifts apart from the herd and when he finds the sheep, he brings it home and calls his friends and family to celebrate.
Big deal, you think. One out of many.
Well, it is a big deal.
All the other sheep are following along, behaving properly, staying out of harm’s way. But there’s the one who stands out for all the wrong reasons – misbehaving, not getting the rules. So imagine how great it is that the sheep is found and brought back to the fold where it will be cared for and loved just as much as all the others. That’s what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, says Jesus, it is a place where anyone can come out of the cold and be welcomed into a loving and accepting community.
Church isn’t just for the good. When I was a little girl, I thought all the good people were those who went to church; I mean, they had to be good, right? They went to church and so it just made sense.
Good people do go to church – it’s where people learn to be good the way God wants us to be good. It’s also the place where people who have problems, where brokeness and pain can be healed, where we learn to love and be loved, where we reach out and are touched, where we can fall and know someone will help us up.
People sometimes call me good and I always am amazed at this. If I was truly good, I’d have no reason for salvation; there would be no reason for that messy death 2,000 years ago that started to turn hearts and minds around. No, I am human with moments of goodness and when I falter, I know that the shepherd will come and find me and bring me back to the family, or the housewife will sweep the corner where I’ve hidden and pick me up and polish me so that I gleam like all the new coins in the box.
You see, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that.
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,