‘Joy in Heaven’
The Heart of the Third Gospel (1)
Many of us can offer testimony to the joy with which the Christian life can fill us — that extraordinary sense of grace, peace and comfort light years beyond anything that fleeting earthly delight can bring. At the heart of St. Luke’s Gospel are three parables which illustrate the way in which God himself rejoices in turn whenever a lost human being is called to conversion. This joy is felt because of God’s heartfelt love for the outcast and the despised, even the irreligious and the immoral.
In the first parable, we learn of the joy of the shepherd who finds a lost sheep. Perhaps no image of God is more powerful than that of Him as the ‘Shepherd of Israel,’ found most memorably in the most beloved of all the psalms
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1)
As well as the proclamation of Jesus Himself
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
In our parable, God Our Shepherd does not rest content with the 99 sheep accounted for, but leaves them behind to risk all and find the one who is lost. Its recovery is an occasion not simply of satisfaction, but of celebration with friends and neighbors. The rescue of the stray sheep is then likened to the repentance and reform of the fallen human being.
The resultant joy in heaven began, however, not with the grateful repentance of the lost but with gracious initiative of God, as Jesus Himself said
For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
In light of this, we should ask ourselves whether we truly share in the cheer of the Lord’s rescue mission, so as to avoid the sour self-righteous Pharisees who condemned Jesus for frequenting with sinners.
The second parable of our chapter offers the image of God in a very different way, as none other than a miserly woman scouring her household for a lost coin, rather than being content with the other nine in her possession. Instead of using daring and energy, as did the shepherd, she is shown using fastidious care in finding what is lost. God’s mercy and love for us is as tenacious as it is audacious. The message upon recovery of the coin is the same
Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)