Magazine article The Christian Century

Clean Sweep

Magazine article The Christian Century

Clean Sweep

Article excerpt

Sunday, September 12 Luke 15:1-10

THE BEST STORYTELLERS paint pictures with worlds, using words to fill our minds with vivid imagery. I remember reading the first Harry Potter novel to my first-grade son. Each time we completed a chapter and I turned the page to start a new one he would shift in my lap and look away from the book. Finally I asked him what was wrong. He replied, "I don't want to see the drawing on the first page of the chapter because I want to think about what things look like all by myself." Of course, with three Harry Potter movies released, everyone knows what Harry and Ron "look like." We've seen Hogwarts, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, and we've seen brooms--Nimbus Two Thousands, Firebolt and others.

When Jesus told his stories about a lost sheep and a lost coin he left the details to our imagination. Like my six-year-old constructing scenes in his mind, we imagine those who will not give up until the lost are found, a shepherd with his staff in hand, a woman with her broom. From the earliest clays, people were accustomed to thinking of a shepherd's staff as a symbol of divine protection. God brought the metaphor to life by calling a shepherd to lead the people out of Egypt and then again to serve as king, promising all the while, "I will not take my steadfast love from him" (2 Sam. 7:15). It's not much of a leap, then, to think of Jesus holding a shepherd's staff, especially since many of us grew up with that picture framed on the wall in our Sunday school rooms.

A broom is a different matter. Nobody ever painted Jesus with a broom in his hand, even if the metaphor of sweeping is used several times by the prophets to refer to God. Luke, however, pairs these stories in such a way that a broom carries as much weight as a shepherd's staff for symbolizing God's care. The point of both stories, of course, is that God will seek us by any means available until we are found. In order tot us to appreciate fully the depth of God's seeking, Jesus intends for us to identify personally with the search, for indeed God's love is as personal as it is universal. Imagine the men from the fields and the women from the houses leaving their tasks to edge toward the circle funning around Jesus and, naturally, bringing their staffs and brooms with them. Jesus, pondering how best to describe the depth of God's love, surveyed the crowd before him, fixed on the ordinary objects held in their hands, and told a pair of stories about how we look tot things that are lost.

If you've never been a shepherd, you might not understand the deep connection between the animal and its owner. …

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