Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Imagine a World 2

ImagineaWorld.jpgImagine a world, Jesus once told his followers, where lost people get found. Jesus told three such parables, we call them the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I want to dabble with the first two today. (You can read the texts after the jump.)

We need to begin at the beginning: 
Jesus is eating with the wrong people: tax collectors and sinners. They are as much a stereotype as the Pharisees and legal experts who are inspecting Jesus’ evening behaviors at meals.
We’ve got the Good-but-Inspected-Guy doing the merciful and forgiving thing with the wrong people and the right people fundamentally upset about what’s being done.  Welcoming sinners to table — evidently before they had committed themselves to Torah observance — was the wrong thing to do.
In that context, Jesus says a new imagination is in order. And that imagined world begins with Jesus’ behavior and is justified by his stories of a different world.
The kingdom world of Jesus is a world in which tax collectors are sinners are pursued by God — a shepherd seeking for a lost sheep, a woman scouring a home to find one lost coin — in spite of the risk and are pursued by God through great effort. In addition, when God finds such a lost person, God is overjoyed — here you can think of the amount of wine Jesus produced at the wedding at Cana — to the point that he throws a big party. When he finds the sheep he puts atop his shoulders and carries it home to safety and celebration; the woman cherishes the coin and calls her neighbors.
A theme sometimes neglected in this imagined world of Jesus: the sheep being found and the coin being found are connected to the sinners who repent. Those who show up to dinner with Jesus are accepting the invitation to turn from what they’ve done, who they are and enter knowing their encounter with Jesus means a new journey. 
Imagine that world, Jesus is saying, and you will see why I welcome tax collectors and sinners to the table. The whole parable throws the normative and conventional values of the Pharisees and scribes into kilter. They can’t imagine tax collectors and sinners being transformed. They can’t imagine a prophet defiling the table like this. They can’t imagine using a shepherd or a woman for such a profound covenant action — welcoming to the table. They can’t imagine a shepherd abandoning 99 sheep to find one [but perhaps another shepherd caring for the 99 is just not mentioned]; they can’t imagine a woman scouring a home for such small value. They can’t imagine either a shepherd or a woman throwing parties for such things.
Jesus can. Welcome to the imagined world of Jesus.
What prevents us such invitations? and even from offending similar religious sensibilities?


15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. 15:2 But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

15:3 So Jesus told them this parable: 15:4 “Which one of you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go look for the one that is lost until he finds it? 15:5 Then when he has found it, he places it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 15:6 Returning home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 15:7 I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.


15:8 “Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search thoroughly until she finds it? 15:9 Then when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 15:10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.”

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Jim Martin

posted July 28, 2010 at 7:04 am

As I read this post early this morning, I found my self encouraged in just hearing the story of what Jesus imagines. Very powerful!
What prevents us from such invitations? I suspect that in part it is because we have lost our imagination. We no longer see the possibilities that Jesus sees.
Maybe, just maybe, it is also because we have long forgotten that we too once received an invitation to the table. While that may not seem as radical as the sinners and tax collectors being invited, we are still present at the table only by the grace of God.

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Randy G.

posted July 28, 2010 at 10:29 am

Thank you for highlighting this. I have long enjoyed looking at how Jesus takes familiar scenes of Jewish life, and then presents them upside-down, getting the story “wrong” by most standards of the day.
Randy G.
Captcha “poseur veridical”

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posted July 28, 2010 at 11:22 am

Your question – what prevents us such invitations?
Currently, politics !!
“They” will never change, never respond, never listen, never …., never …., never ….
However, as I read the Gospels, Jesus kept on making His invitations. And, He told His disciples to think about “carrying a cross”, not about a rose garden.
Should we be ashamed?

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posted July 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm

Unlike Jesus, I think many Christians have lost the ability to imagine–if they ever had it. When it comes to spiritual matters, I think some feel that the imagination or independent use of the mind God gave us is not necessary. Therefore, we end up stunting real growth and not experiencing all that God would have for us.

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Bob Porter

posted July 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Scot ?
Thanks for this topic. I am interested in how it will develop.
For me, the reasons I do not follow Jesus? lead are always fear and selfishness. I know that perfect love drives out fear, but just knowing does not seem to get the job done.

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posted July 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Every coin was found, every sheep was found, every son returned.

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John W Frye

posted July 29, 2010 at 1:06 am

From Lutsk, Ukraine.
I agree with the comment that the use of the imagination and Christian teaching have been divorced. The didactic, straight-forward propositional approach is imperialistic. Stories are for kids…and good movies, but not for something as hallowed as Christian theology. Maturity, it is thought, outgrows the need for stories. “Give me the facts, M’am, just the facts.” For a time a wave of Christian fear actually equated imagination with Eastern mysticism, and we all know the dangers of that! So, this serious look at Jesus’ use of stories to appeal to the imagination is so crucial. As NT Wrigth so succinctly wrote, “Stories change the world.”
captcha “sketch Sundays”

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posted July 29, 2010 at 3:14 am

If you think that a first-century tax collector was more akin to Bernie Madoff than to an IRS employee, it his hard to imagine Jesus dining with tax collectors, no matter how often you have read the parables.

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Paul Sheneman

posted July 29, 2010 at 9:58 am

The point that a neglected theme in the parables is that “finding” is connected to the repenting sinner resonated with me. I travel in a circle that has been trying so hard to be welcoming and inviting to the outsider or stranger that we have diminished this “theme” in our lives. It was a good reminder that to practice this “imagined world” is to welcome the other with an invitation to another way of life in Jesus.
Thanks for the reminder of the world that Jesus called us to live into.

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