Pentecost 17/Proper 19(C)/Lectionary 24
Sweeper Jesus, Pastor Fred Kinsey
Do we repent because God wants us to? Or because it transforms us into a new being, a new human? Are we the lost, who are found? Or are we the righteous, who need no repentance? Do we desire mercy, or sacrifice? In finding, or being found, who do we rejoice with?
I love the image of Jesus as, the sweeper of the house, searching for the lost coin. Like the woman who had 10 silver coins and lost one, the broom of mercy and grace, is also a familiar cleaning tool. She, or he, who take up the broom, are cleaners, as well as, searchers, for the lost.
When we feel lost or forgotten. When we feel neglected or misunderstood. When we fail to measure up to our own, or someone else’s, standards. When we hurt the ones we love. When the ones we love are hurting, due to ill health, or suffering from circumstances beyond our control. How do we find healing and wholeness? Who will come to the rescue? Loss, always brings with it, pain. Not all loss can be fixed or put to rights. Reparations for what was broken cannot always repair and restore, as it once was. But still, all is not lost. Forgiveness and transformation are possible.
“…what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”
Sweeping, is one of my duties around the house. I much prefer the chore of sweeping, to the chore of cleaning the bathroom, that Kim does. We find that we divide up household chores, simply by the way we like, or don’t like, them, and so each of us claims we have a better deal – which works out pretty good! For a long time I used an old corn-broom from my Uncle Shuff’s family broom factory in Chanute, Kansas to sweep the floor. I loved its long wooden handle and well-made bristles. It lasted for decades, before finally coming undone a few years ago. Now, on our hard wood floors, I use a Swiffer-type sweeper. It does a good job, better in some ways, but it’s much more high-maintenance than my trusty family organic broom was!
Of course, sweeping was traditionally women’s work, and so the image of Jesus, as the sweeper, has certainly been an unusual encounter for many Gospel readers. Jesus the Good Shepherd, the King David-type figure, going out searching for the lost sheep, was the more common image – a male holding a Shepherd’s Staff. But the image of Jesus, the Son of God, broom in hand, and sweeping the dirt floor of a Palestinian home? That’s a curiously queering one, even for many of us to picture today!
Personally, I find sweeping satisfying – and not just because I sometimes discover coins, and other treasures I’d misplaced under the sofa, but more because, after a good sweeping and mopping, I have a sense of a fresh new beginning. Like sins washed clean in baptism, like the turning around and going in a new direction that “repentance” implies, sweeping is a satisfying clean new start.
But in sweeping the floor and finding the lost coin, it’s not just that one more, is found. Certainly, this is part of our calling. To find one who is lost, a family member or friend that needs our help, is how we engage our faith. The one who is struggling with addiction, the one who needs a visit in the hospital or nursing home, the one who has lost their job, all need support. We are God’s hands, working in the world! But Jesus takes us deeper yet, in this parable.
Jesus, as the sweeping woman, or searching shepherd, isn’t just reacting to endless needs, one crisis after another, adding one more notch in his belt. But rather, God, acting through the church of Jesus Christ, lifts up the one we have forgotten, the very one that is not to be left behind. The lost one, is the priority. The one who is lost must be found, must be returned to the fold, is of more value to the whole – the whole community – if we are to have a community that is healthy and whole, at all. In the realm of God, there is only, just, and true, and authentic community, if it is for all: for, everyone!
And so Jesus the Shepherd, does in a somewhat jarring way, what no shepherd should do, he leaves the 99 righteous sheep in the dangerous wilderness where wolves roam, in order to search out the lost one. Jesus the Sweeper, broom in hand, risks looking shameful and weak in order to pursue even the 1 out of 10 that is lost or forgotten.
Let it be so among you, Jesus would say! And yet, in American society today, with our largely unregulated capitalist economy, we actually plan to have the lost and neglected. For example, with unemployment, it used to be that 3-4% unemployment was the official acceptable goal, now after the Great Recession we may have to revise that higher still! Therefore, homelessness is to be expected too, whether considered their fault or not, in the most recent count, more than 116,000 persons are homeless in Chicago, a 10% increase in the past year. The 1 out of 100 sheep, or the one out of ten coins that are lost, are an “acceptable loss,” we are told.
Or, take our current approach to war as another example: whether by the troops on the ground, or the Commander in Chief choosing drone targets, “collateral damage,” a nice PC word meaning, “civilian deaths,” is actually planned for. Kept to a minimum, but always a numerically expected calculation. In a recent Face the Nation Roundtable on Syria, Jane Harmon, a former US Representative, in trying to make the case for air strikes, said, “we have to make a choice among bad options, and [missile strikes] are the least bad option. They’re gunna be killed anyway,” Harmon reasoned, referring to Syrian civilians!
The economy, or realm, of this world, is not the economy of God’s realm and kingdom, which we are called to embody and live in. Jesus sweeps in a different economy, a different community.
What a joy it has been then to see this alternative community rise up, if only for a moment, amongst us. I’m speaking of the deliberations regarding Syria, where only two weeks ago our elected leaders were beating the drums of war and openly considering the next collateral damage there. But instead of “beating drums,” the image of the “merciful broom,” sweeping carefully, looking for lost paths to peaceful coexistence, has captured the imaginations of many across the globe.
Now we await the outcome of the surprising American-Russian diplomacy. Nothing is assured, but hopes are high. And would it be too much to ask to continue the discussions, to move from there, straight to ceasefire and peace talks before more blood is shed, before the 1 out of 10 in Christian towns and churches are further targeted, and deeper chaos in Syrian takes hold?!
The Sweeper and the Shepherd reveal who the righteous, and who the lost, are. Their images are oddly jarring, but transformative. They imagine mercy instead of human sacrifice. They imagine risking reputations, to search for the 1 out of 10, the 1 out of 100 even, to search for the ones we often forget or deem to be a socially acceptable sacrifice to make the rest of our lives possible.
In revealing the horror we are capable of, the Sweeper and the Shepherd also allow us to wake up to our self-righteousness, and to turn around in a new direction, that is, repent. We realize how we have been lost, and how much the sweeper desires to find us. We identify with other lost ones, and begin to find it unacceptable that they should be sacrificed any longer. Collateral damage in the realm of this world is no longer invisible, and we can’t help but find the lost and welcome everyone to the joy of the celebration! We feed one another, as Jesus feeds us at the banqueting table. And so, we do not repent just because God wants us to. But because it transforms our self-righteousness into a new being, a new human. We may be, alternately, the seekers, and the found ones.
And so we come to find, only when the lost one is found, and all are brought back into the fold, can we truly rejoice at the banqueting table of the Sweeper. At the Sweepers table, we find a community of mercy and grace.