Reading: Luke 15.1-10
All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘Or 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? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
I used to know someone who spent much of their time being judgemental of the motives and actions of other people. That person was someone who worked very hard at being ‘seen’ to do the ‘right thing’. They tried not to offend or displease. They tried to live a quiet and respectable life without drawing too much attention to themselves. But … they were never slow in criticizing others who did not conform to their view of wholesome living. That person would definitely have been in the company of the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling about the company Jesus was keeping at the beginning of today’s reading. My old acquaintance had many sterling qualities but tolerance and empathy did not feature among them.
In response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes Jesus tells two parables that speak of loss, finding and rejoicing. Both the shepherd and the woman were not without substance. The shepherd owned a flock of one hundred sheep and the woman owned ten silver coins (a not insubstantial amount in Jesus’ time). Both the shepherd and the woman lost a comparatively tiny part of their wealth, one sheep and one coin. But … despite the comparatively small loss, they both searched for that which was lost. The shepherd journeyed into the wilderness to find his one lost sheep and the woman cleaned her house from top to bottom to find her lost coin. Having expended all that energy they both experienced feelings of great elation. They both felt the need to share their good news with others. They both wanted to celebrate and rejoice.
At the heart of this reading is the love God has for each and every one of us. It is a fundamental facet of human nature that we get lost. We say things and we do things that distance us from God. We say and do these things on a daily basis. But … God does not wait for us to realize the error of our ways and go crawling back to him. Instead, God comes out in search of us. God does not leave us lost in the wilderness or wallowing in the grime of our everyday lives. Instead, God comes down into the darkest recesses of human life and takes us home, where there is celebration and rejoicing.
Jesus’ whole ministry can be seen in these two parables. God saw that humanity had lost its way, that it was wandering in the wilderness. God saw that his prophets and other messengers had not been able to make the lasting impact that he knew was in our best interests. So … God came to earth himself to search us out, to bring us home and to rejoice with us.
Are we ready for God to lift us out of our judgemental negativity, or are we so entrenched in our own opinions that we now have no real place for God in our lives?