A lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They grumbled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their complaining triggered this story:
“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. (MSG)
Lost people matter to God. They matter so much to him that one lost soul found is the grounds for a big celestial party. Please note this simple observation of today’s Gospel reading: If there is rejoicing in the presence of angels in heaven over one sinner who repents, then who is doing the rejoicing? God! God himself is crazy giddy with joy over one lost person being found.
Celebration is an important activity for the Christian. God throws the best parties, filled with plenty of joy and recognition of persons restored to fellowship. As people created in the image and likeness of God, we are hardwired for celebration. If God can go uncorked with joy and celebration, I’m going to say with confidence that open unabashed blowouts rejoicing over people’s transformation and new life is welcome and expected. Folks baptized in pickle juice can join the grumbling of all the high mucky-muck dudes who smugly look down on the marginal persons among us. Hopefully, the party-poopers won’t be heard because of all the noise at God’s party.
This parable of Jesus is meant to give us a glimpse of God’s own heart. He would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person back to himself. God would go dumpster diving and wade through the stinky nasty garbage to find that one lost valuable person.
Why should reaching out to marginal people with the grace and love of Jesus Christ be a high priority? Because restoring lost people is a high priority for God. God has placed the highest of priorities on recovering those who are spiritually lost and wandering around life without a purpose or a place to call home. Such people matter so much to him that God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to this earth. Jesus went to the greatest lengths possible through enduring a cruel death on a cross in order to reconcile a broken lost relationship between people and God.
I can still remember what it felt like to be separated from God and estranged from the church – it was lonely and sad, like being in a deep black hole with no way of getting out and no one around to help. But God, in his great mercy, sent spiritual commandos to extract me from my captivity of the soul. So, my greatest desire is to live my life basking in the grace shown to me, grateful for new mercies which come every day, and giving that same grace to others – especially those considered as the lost, the least, and the lonely in society.
In leaving the ninety-nine and going after the one sheep, God gave preferential attention to the lost. So, because of this, I ask a sincere and probing question which I believe needs to be asked: Can you live with that? My own answer is: “I sure can, because I was once that lone lost sheep!”
Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd. Thank you for going after me when I was lost. Help me to remember that you will often leave my pasture to go after others. I’ll be willing and happy to go with you when you do. Let’s also take the Spirit with us. Amen.
Click Compassion Hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty to remember the lengths of love God went to in restoring us.