Diverse creatures of the earth as well as earth elements feature in the gospel for this third Sunday of the Season of Creation. These evoke, once more, the eighth work of mercy with its call to contemplate God’s creation with gratitude and to engage in simple daily gestures that have the power to transform our world. There is joy in living this way. While all three parables in today’s gospel reading invite us into the experience of loss, loss of a valued creature, of a woman’s means of survival, of an adult child’s respect and presence, they likewise invite us into an encounter with God who seeks and “saves” the lost, be they human or other-than-human, and who rejoices big time when the lost are found.
The parables are prefaced by an account of the criticism Jesus endured for hosting “the lost” of the human community, namely the toll collectors and those who were categorised as “sinners”. The critics in the story are those who consider themselves “righteous”. They have no room in their hearts for compassion or forgiveness and no capacity to accept the goodness of a prophet who acts in ways that cut across their expectations.
“What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it?’ asks Jesus of his critics, who would eschew any identification with “unclean” shepherds. The lost sheep is found and ultimately embraced by the community. The ensuing celebration is likened to the heavenly banquet where there is more joy over one who repents than over those who have no need of repentance. Repent/repentance may seem a strange choice of words since all the action is taken by the shepherd. The lost sheep simply responds to the initiative of the shepherd who goes after it and returns it to the fold.
“Or what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it?’ is Jesus’ second question to his critics. The pattern is repeated. The drachma, representing a day’s wages, is lost, sought, found and the community rejoices. Occasionally in the biblical tradition, as here, God is imaged as a woman. God is not only the good male shepherd as in the first parable or the good male parent as in the third parable. God is also the diligent female householder who seeks and saves what is lost. No single image can contain the compassionate, loving God presented in these parables. The invitation to the believing community is to find ways of opening our hearts and the hearts of the unforgiving in our world to God’s action of seeking and saving the lost-here and now, not simply in the afterlife.