Rom 14:7-12; Ps 27:1,4,13,14; Lk 15:1-10
We see it on bumper stickers. We hear it from the pop culture, “No Fear”! Yet, it’s not likely the same message as the Psalmist writes about when he asks, “…whom should I fear?…of whom should I be afraid?” The confidence we have in ourselves and in our past success sometimes appears to be enough to get us through the next crisis. However, hope is not born until confidence dies. Hope is born out of a heart that trusts in the LORD because we are not fully equipped or totally adequate to navigate every crisis. This psalm celebrates and revels in faith. As we have already professed, “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.” This radical trust in the goodness of God still evokes a profound petition. The one thing we need when we do not trust in our ability to save ourselves is to dwell in the house of the LORD all our days. We simply can’t live without a glimpse of the loveliness of the LORD and contemplate his temple. Then and only then will our lives be bountiful. Then and only then can we wait with courage. Then and only then will we be stouthearted and wait for the LORD. Notice we wait for the LORD and not for him to accomplish our plans and desires. This is the kind of waiting that Saint Paul exhorts his disciples in Rome when he writes: “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” The Lord Jesus summons us in today’s gospel to rely upon the mercy of the Good Shepherd and to bring great rejoicing to God and his angels by our authentic repentance.
No one lives for himself and no one dies for himself. For us to live, is to live for the Lord, and when we die, we die for Christ. This is the whole purpose of his becoming man and dwelling among us—to give us life, life in abundance. The Lord Jesus died and rose from the dead so that he might be Lord of the dead and the living. Saint Paul uses this fundamental creedal statement to justify his challenge to the Roman Christians who seem to have been caught up in mutual criticism and judgment. This kind of atmosphere is destructive of communal life. It creates a reign of fear. Brothers and sisters cease to be supportive and helpful and become merely judgmental and condemning. They cease to be brothers and sisters of a loving and forgiving Father. They deny by attitude and action the very reason for their shared life in Christ, the only judge of the living and the dead. Ultimately, our peers do not judge us. Ultimately, the Lord Jesus is our just and compassionate judge. “As I live,” says the Lord, “every knee shall bend before me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” Saint Paul cautions those who believe to live out the faith they profess, and let the one who knows our hearts and our motives to be the best judge, the only fair and merciful judge of everyone.
It seems that Saint Paul is not the only one who had to deal with rampant judgmentalism; the Lord Jesus is surrounded by it throughout the Gospel of Saint Luke. At this point in his ministry, the Lord is attracting those who are condemned and marginalized, the tax collectors and sinners. They were all drawing near to listen, because they found in his words and deeds the compassion they longed for in life. It is the Pharisees and scribes who complain that this Jesus must be an unsavory person if he attracts such reprobates. Yet, the Lord Jesus is not ready to judge and condemn those who do so to him. Rather, he tells them a series of parables to invite them to reconsider their attitudes and behaviors. He reveals in his teaching the mercy he has on all those who judge him and seek to marginalize him. The Lord tells the story of a man and his sheep. He is willing to risk losing the whole flock for the sake of one lost sheep. Such a man is more concerned with the lost and not at all concerned with economic loss. This behavior reveals the unexpected mercy of the Good Shepherd. Such behavior surprises his listeners, for what man among them would be so foolish? Only someone who has confidence that the ninety-nine will remain safe could be willing to take such a risk. It seems that the Good Shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. The woman too is willing to turn her whole house upside down to find what is lost. She, too, is more delighted to have all her precious ones together, than to be satisfied with what she has securely in hand. These two stories challenge and comfort both the judged and the judges in his audience. The compassion of God goes far beyond our myopic view of life. The LORD finds his joy in personally bringing all his sons and daughters back home. It is our repentance and reunion with God and his angels that evokes great rejoicing. Whether we condemn others or are condemned by others, we are all welcome home where we find mercy beyond our wildest expectations.