Weekly Meditation: 11th September 2016
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
1 Timothy 1:12-17
If we do not believe that we are infinitely precious to God, we will miss the significance of so much that is in the scriptures. The doctrine of God’s grace focuses on the fact that God loves us and values us, being willing to spend himself on us and rejoicing over us.
We see God’s grace illustrated in two parables – the lost sheep and the lost coin. In each case, what is lost is precious; its loss cannot be discounted; it must be retrieved. In our modern society, those of us who live in rural areas see lost sheep all over the place with no one making much fuss about them; and a lost coin would not cause much of a stir either. But change ‘sheep’ or ‘coin’ into ‘child’ and we have something nearer the essence of these stories. Most parents know the desperation of losing a child if only for a few minutes, and the relief and joy of finding him or her again.
In first century Israel, sheep were precious, and the loss of even one was significant. Precious also were the dowry coins that women wore on their headdresses. If the parable refers to one of those, its loss would be serious. Even if it was not of such importance, a silver coin was worth about a day’s wage and would have to be found. In each of the parables we have the image of a careful, painstaking search and the rejoicing when the search is successful. The man finding his sheep carried it home on his shoulders (though no doubt it could have walked perfectly well) and held a party for his friends and neighbours to celebrate. The woman similarly called her friends and neighbours together to rejoice with her when her sweeping uncovered the coin she had lost. Jesus told his hearers that there is the same sort of ‘rejoicing’ in heaven when even one sinner repents (Luke 15:7,10).
Paul must have had this in mind when he wrote of his own salvation. He had been far from God, ‘a blasphemer and persecutor and a violent man’ (1 Timothy 1:13). God had sought and found him, however, and his grace was ‘poured out abundantly’ on Paul, ‘along with the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus’ (1:14). It was a demonstration of Jesus’ ‘unlimited patience’ even towards ‘the worst of sinners’ to encourage all “’who would believe on him and receive eternal life’ (1:16).
It is difficult to see that same love and grace in our reading from Jeremiah. There, God speaks of his anger at the unfaithfulness of his people, and foretells ‘the scorching wind’ that is approaching them (4:11). He refers to them as ‘fools ... senseless children ... skilled in doing evil’ (4:22), and the judgment he pronounces against them is terrible and relentless; the once fruitful land will become a desert and ‘the whole land will be ruined’ (4:26,28a). God’s purpose, however, was one of love and grace; he had in mind the salvation, not only of his own people, but of the whole world. His chosen nation – Israel – was that from which the Messiah would come; Jesus would be a descendent of King David, of the tribe of Judah (2 Samuel 7:16, Psalm 89:35-37, Genesis 49:10). It was, therefore, essential to keep Israel as a distinct people, separate from the surrounding pagan nations, and the ruthless action foretold by Jeremiah was God’s means of maintaining his chosen people. They would have to face ruin and exile, but God would not destroy them ‘completely’ (4:27b). God would bring them back and establish them again, and through their nation Christ would be born into the world ‘to save sinners’ by God’s grace (1 Timothy 1:15).
The image of a shepherd searching the hillsides for a single lost sheep, and of a woman sweeping her floor with lamp held high in search of a tiny coin are exactly right to convey the perseverance and devotion with which God seeks his children until they are found and the painstaking provision he has made for their salvation.
By Susan Thorne