Tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Jesus. So, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses started grumbling, “This man is friendly with sinners. He even eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this story:
If any of you has a hundred sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won’t you leave the ninety-nine in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it? And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, “Let’s celebrate! I’ve found my lost sheep.”
Jesus said, “In the same way there is more happiness in heaven because of one sinner who turns to God than over ninety-nine good people who don’t need to.” (Contemporary English Version)
Lost people matter to God… a lot!
From God’s perspective, it really doesn’t matter why a sheep has strayed from the flock. That stuff only matters to us. It seems many folks only believe a person is worth going out and looking for after we have properly deemed them worthy of pursuing.
“They made their bed; now they need to sleep in it,” “You reap what you sow,” and “They don’t want to be found,” are all human contrived justifications for letting a strayed sheep remain in the wilderness, vulnerable to the wolves.
The mercy of God makes no distinctions between a person who purposely leaves and squanders their resources, and one who accidentally wanders off because of hardship which wasn’t their fault. Lost is lost. Mercy is mercy, period.
Lost people matter so much to God that one lost soul is worth sending out the hounds of heaven to find them. And, once found, becomes the ground 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 is crazy giddy with joy over one lost person being found.
Celebration is a spiritual discipline.
Yes, indeed, it is. Celebration is an important activity for the Church and for believers everywhere. Just as pursuing lost people is a spiritual practice and a skill to be developed, so celebration is a spiritual discipline which needs time, attention, and resources.
But the religious insider might doth protest, why care about this, especially the celebration? Aren’t we being faithful already, and properly focusing on Scripture, sacrament, worship, and prayer? Isn’t this just all a waste of our limited time, energy, and assets?
Short answer: We celebrate because God celebrates.
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.
God would do anything to find a lost person, to restore and reconcile a person to relational connection. 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 that God sent the Son, Jesus, to this earth.
Christ 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 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, with immense 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 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.