Saturday, 10 September 2016

Luke 15:1-10 The Lost Sheep

There are two canonical versions of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Both Matthew (18:10-14) and Luke (15:3-7) share a concern for the excluded or inferior members of 'the flock'. In the case of Matthew, the parable comes as a warning to the strong to hold close the weaker members of the community. In Luke, the context provides the focus for the message that concludes the parable:
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them" (15:1-2) ... Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (15:7)
Compare the canonical concern for the excluded with the version that appears in the Gospel of Thomas.
Jesus said: The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep; one of them, the biggest, went astray; he left (the) ninety-nine (and) sought after the one until he found it. After he had laboured, he said to the sheep: I love you more than the ninety-nine. (Logion 107)
It might be the case that the root of Logion 107 has an equally ancient provenance as the canonical versions. (See here.)  However, the Gnostic use of its underlying elitism sets it apart from the canonical Gospel accounts. The parable itself does not lead inexorably to any particular teaching point, hence the three different conclusions drawn in each version of the parable. Perhaps Jesus used the parable a number of times in differing contexts resulting in the variety of endings. Or perhaps one or other is the closest to the original context and meaning of the parable when first uttered. Scholarly opinion on this point will, most likely, remain moot.

Daniel Bonnell, The Lost Sheep
The narrative of the Gerasene demoniac is a scapegoat/sacrifice story in reverse. (See Girardian Lectionary's comments on this  passage here.) The usual end of a scapegoating incident is for the victim to be thrown from the cliff and the persecutors to be looking down at the corpse in the water. In the case of the Gerasene Demoniac, it is the crowd that goes over the edge (metaphorically as the pigs), and the man left in his right mind. Similarly, Michael Serres suggests the parable of the Lost Sheep undoes the scapegoat mechanism. (Here, 'The Corresponding Positive Word' found on the last page of the article. Also, see the comments on the Gospel reading here.) The one, ejected into the wilderness, is sought out, found and brought back with great joy to complete the full complement of the fold. The logic of the parable is inimical to scapegoating. Luke and Matthew, in their particularizing of the parable, remain constant with this underlying logic. However, the joy that the reversal (of scapegoating) brings is not so easy as we imagine. If we suspend our interpretation of the lost sheep in moral terms (sinner) and see the lost sheep as the one who is a victim of expulsion (sinners and tax collectors, weaker members, etc.) the community that welcomes the lost sheep back must undergo a seismic transformation. For it was they who threw the sheep out in the first place. This is, of course, why the parables of lost sheep, coin and son are offensive. People expel the scapegoat in the first place with, at the very least, a reluctant satisfaction. The return of the sheep at the hands of the shepherd brings condemnation. Joy must come after a conversion. (Think here of the scapegoat Jesus and the transformation to joy of the disciples that was to come after the resurrection.)

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