St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Parable of the Lost Sheep

Sermon Preached by Melissa Nassif on Sunday, March 3, 2019.

Homily for 2-3-19 – Parable of the Lost Sheep

Good morning! Here we are in March again, and as usual this is Antiochian Women’s month. Throughout the Archdiocese, women are serving their parishes in some of the more visible ways:   taking the collection, taking part in the Great Procession, ushering, assisting with communion, and   giving a homily.

This year at St. Mary’s the theme of our homilies is “Faith in Action.” They will focus on some of the parables that Jesus told that show us how to live a Christian life – the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Good Samaritan, and the Rich Man and Lazarus. In the church in Jerusalem, one of the original five main centers of the Christian Church, these parables were the Gospel readings for the Sundays leading up to Pascha. They were chosen for those Sundays as lessons especially for those who were preparing to be received into the church at the Paschal Vigil. And as a matter of fact the hymnography that we currently sing at matins throughout Lent still refers to some of these parables.

The subject of today’s homily is the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which also includes the very similar Parable of the Lost Coin. They’re found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, verses 1 through 10:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”

(They believed that a pious Israelite would be defiled if he ate with sinners.)

Then Jesus told them this parable:  “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep!’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins, and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

I used to wonder why one little silver coin could be so important. Wasn’t that like losing a dime? Why would she care so much? Well, I’ve learned that the silver coin was a drachma, which was worth about a whole day’s wages – considerably more than a dime. And what made the loss even greater was the fact that a married or engaged woman in those days often wore a set of ten drachmas in a garland on her head, or around her neck. It was given to her by the man she was promised to, showing the world that she belonged only to him – rather like an engagement ring for us. So if one piece of this garland went missing, its loss would be significant and her friends would share her distress. So it was a big thing.

Now we have two groups of people listening to Jesus tell these parables: tax collectors and other “undesirables” on the one hand, and the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees on the other. We know that the scribes and Pharisees scorned all those they considered “sinners,” especially tax collectors – remember a few weeks ago we heard the story of Zacchaeus, who was a tax collector, and when Jesus invited himself to stay at his house the scribes and Pharisees were appalled. So how would each of these groups have responded on hearing this parable?

I’m pretty sure the tax collectors and sinners who were following Jesus around would have identified with the lost sheep. They would see themselves in the story, and would be vastly reassured and delighted to know that their repentance would cause such rejoicing in heaven.

The Pharisees and Scribes would have had a harder time with it. If they were confident of their own righteousness and didn’t believe there was anything they needed to repent of, how could they consider themselves lost? At the same time, how could they identify with the shepherd, who cared about the lost sheep and rejoiced when it was saved?

Since the Scribes and Pharisees were very familiar with the scriptures, perhaps a few of them might remember the verse from Isaiah that says, “All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way…”   I imagine Jesus told them this parable in the hope that at least one of them might see himself as more lost than he wanted to admit, and might yearn for the “rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God” that Jesus promised here. And perhaps that one would repent of his pride and self-righteousness, and accept God’s forgiveness.

Where do we see ourselves in this story? Are we in need of forgiveness? Are we, like the Pharisees, a little self-righteous? Do we secretly feel a little scornful toward certain types of people? Have we, like the lost sheep, turned away from our shepherd to follow our own way? Jesus, our shepherd, is always out there searching for us, ready to put us on his shoulders and take us back to rejoin his flock. After all, to repent is to turn back. And repentance is the first step in putting our faith into action.

And what’s the next step? Both the shepherd and the woman, after finding what they had lost, shared their joy with their friends and neighbors. As Jesus said in today’s gospel about the last judgment, we can share our joy by sharing what we have - feeding the hungry and thirsty, inviting in the stranger, giving clothes to the naked, and visiting the sick and prisoners. Do we have friends and neighbors whose lives would be enriched when we share our joy with them? As He said, whatever we do for the least of his brothers and sisters – our friends and neighbors – we are doing for him.

That’s putting our faith into action.