What is precious to you? What is lost to you? These two questions intently gaze at us from our lives this morning and this scripture from Luke. The leaders are grumbling. These are religious leaders and scholars. The text names the Pharisees, but we know from last week’s story that Luke often pits the Pharisees over and against Jesus for his own purposes. So—the leaders are grumbling. The people with the comfort, power, and means not to grumble—are grumbling. Some translations say that they “murmured.”
You know the kind of murmuring that is meant here? The murmuring that happens when someone does something good at your office and certain people can’t handle it. They murmur, saying, “Oh, she just did that to get on his good side.” Or, he is only working all those overtime hours cause he and his wife are fighting. Or, the teams’ roll out some new plan and someone gives an eye roll and murmurs, “Let’s see how far they get this time before it all crashes.” Have you been known to mutter under your breath? I have. Are you known for your eyeroll? Or have you been the recipient of grumbling? I have.
Murmuring. Saying things under our breath that we don’t have the courage or the gall to say aloud. The leaders are grumbling and, sure enough, it’s because Jesus has somehow upset the status quo. “Imagine…He eats with tax collectors and sinners,” they say. The leaders don’t like who Jesus is spending his time with. Why? Tax collectors were generally seen as collaborators, collaborators with the Roman Empire which was not and is not typically a friend to the masses of the oppressed, the stricken, or the impoverished. Perhaps we might substitute people wearing MAGA hats for the collaborators today. Or in Montgomery County, members of ICE—collaborators with the system. Or if that seems too much a stretch, you can substitute the undocumented kitchen worker, but it does not carry the same idea of collaboration with the regime. They grumble, “Jesus eats with those people, those collaborators.”
But not only the collaborators, Jesus also eats with “sinners.” Over time, the Christian tradition has tended to layer, narrow, and define “sinner” with moral failures in sex, drinking, drugs, vices like stealing and such, or broken commandments. And yet, who really are the sinners? Maybe it’s those who are not specifically breaking into people’s homes wearing ski masks but charging exorbitant interest or making side deals or cutting benefits to increase profit margins or doing perfectly legal things that undermine the greater good or the public trust. Maybe sinner is defined as someone who would sign off on laying pipe across Native lands and expecting fuel always to be cheap and accessible, without regulation or public control. Maybe “sinner” is the people that we leave to God, bless their souls…the people we don’t understand or want to understand, much less associate with. The one’s who gamble away their grandchildren and great grandchildren’s future for a tank of gas and disposability. The ones who want prime shipping, regardless of the driver who makes that last mile for Amazon without safety protections or benefits. Maybe the sinners are the ones who shop based solely on convenience and not community, or those who conveniently “forget” the sheer amount of energy it takes to get a banana in their hands in the wintertime.
And Jesus eats with such as these.
In his defense, to the grumblers, Jesus asks a question and tells a story…
“Which one of you—you— (imagine Jesus pointing with his eyes) would not leave 99 sheep in good pasture to find the one who is missing? The one who is lost?” You and I want wholeness. You and I want healing. Which of you wouldn’t notice that one of your precious ones is missing? Who of you wouldn’t set out to retrieve the missing one, the lost one, so that your flock might be whole again?”
The flock isn’t the flock –isn’t whole—without that one missing sheep. Jesus says notice what is precious. Notice what is missing.
And then Jesus continues by giving another example. A woman has ten coins. Our text says “silver”, but these were drachmas. A drachma was worth about a day’s wage. So, the woman has ten coins, about a week’s worth of wages, and she loses one coin. She misplaces it, or it drops somewhere hidden, but she has lost it. And immediately, she sets out to find it by sweeping the house thoroughly until it is recovered. Ten coins are not ten coins with one missing. They are a complete set with one missing. Why? Because the coin is valuable. Because the set isn’t complete. Because losing one of anything when we consider it precious is a terrible wound. We are ill at ease until that one—that one—is recovered. Notice what is precious. Notice what is missing.
And now a story about Beyblades. Beyblades are a kid-craze in my pint-size household. For those who don’t know, they plastic spinning tops that can spin into one another and break apart in the process. The goal when one is playing Beyblades is to stay whole, to stay spinning, and not to break apart when you crash into your opponent. We have a collection of Beyblades at my house. My kids trade them, set them spinning and they break apart into 3, 4, 5, 10 pieces. Truthfully, I lose count. They are not precious to me. I would not notice one missing—whether green, red, white, grey or black—or their component parts unless I step on one in the middle of the night. When they break apart, they roll all over the place, get themselves lost with fighting each other, and are subject—all of them—to a power greater than themselves: which in this case, is my kids and their endless battles.
But Beyblades are precious to my sons because they are not easily replaceable (they can cost upwards of $20), they can’t put themselves to rights without the kid’s time, investment, and know-how–and they are valuable in the child-size economy of school-house trading.
What is precious to you? Jesus asks. What has been missing? And which one of you wouldn’t set out immediately to seek and find it? And after you find it, which of you wouldn’t rejoice?
This week, people are mobilizing to strike for climate change. There is a huge shift of thinking that needs to take place around our environment and protection for that environment. Not simply caring but protecting and safeguarding. We will lose the battle of climate change and continue to spin apart into pieces if we cannot determine – as a body collective—that our Mother Earth needs protection from the evil that we foist on her daily. If we can not understand that she is precious, limited, and broken, we won’t notice what she is missing and what has been lost already.
We can, like the woman in Jesus’ story, sweep to find, or we can continue to sweep to lose. When we sweep to lose, we sweep our regrets under the rug, rather than acknowledging them. We sweep away our culpability, our own ability to question the denial of evidence, and we try to lose our desire to care for something greater than ourselves. We try to sweep away death without looking ourselves in the eye.
Or we can, like the woman, realize that we are not whole, not complete, with one –or many species–missing. We can sweep to find our courage, our moral bearings in this time, and the greater good. We can diligently search for what will make us whole, healthy, and find Truth in the process. We can sweep to find our commitment, our integrity, and our commitment to Planet Earth as the Mother that she is. We can bring all our resources to bear so that in the spinning, in the grappling to use and overconsume, we do not ultimately break apart, but come together.
May it be so.