The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and
rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine right- eous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins,[a] if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Have you ever lost anything? I know I have. Especially car keys! I try to put my keys in the same place all of the time, but sometimes I don’t. Then, when I’m running late, trying to get out the door, the sense of panic as I rush around trying to find them. Then, when I do find them, the sense of relief!
As I was thinking about this passage, I thought a lot about our national and international climate that we find ourselves in. It seems like we’ve lost a lot in our dia- logue, or lack of dialogue with one another. We are content to toss out civility and even share outright lies, make up things on the spot or make huge statements that contribute to relational breakdowns and anxiety. We have lost something, and in this time in our culture, are we willing to look for something of greater value or simply just accept it?
Or, maybe we have lost something in our lives, maybe a friendship or someone close to us has hurt us or we have hurt them, or some misunderstanding has caused a break in relationship. We want to search out what has happened in order to find or restore something that was lost.
This morning our gospel lesson is about losing something and then finding it. The context is interesting. Tax collectors, folks who were not well thought of in Jewish society at the time. They’d often collect more than what was required for taxes to the occupying forces of Rome in order to enrich themselves. Then there were the sinners…folks who had somehow found themselves outside of community because of something they’d done or not done. But, they all felt accepted for who they were and they gathered around Je- sus.
Jesus didn’t condemn folks or try to control them. He didn’t want to put stress on them, he simply loved them and accepted them. He believed in them. Jesus knew their imperfection, they weren’t hiding anything, and somehow they knew that Jesus embraced them in their humanity.
On the other hand, we also have the Pharisee’s hanging out. These were the people on the inside of the religious structure. They followed the rules and they even made many of the rules, most of which were not what God had intended. These religious leaders, these insiders, were complaining and grumbling as they often did. They wondered aloud why Jesus would welcome these sinners and even eat with them, which in that culture meant bringing them into friendship.
Quite a contrast. The sinners were experiencing hospitality and radical grace from Jesus…so were the Pharisees. Yet, the sinners were drawn in closer to Jesus and the Phar- isees, for the most part, kept their distance and complained.
So, Jesus goes into these two parables. The first about losing one sheep out of a hundred. Some might say why go after one, take care of the rest…you still have 99. Yet, Jesus is saying that this sheep matters, that we all matter. And, if one of us is lost or feels marginalized, then leaving the majority and going after the minority is God’s imperative. Work hard to find that lost sheep.
Then, when finding it, call the neighbors and friends over, have a celebration.
The story goes on to say that’s exactly what happens in the universe all around us, that’s what God does…God rejoices when one sinner, someone who’s maybe feeling lost, repents.
Again, we’ve said this before about repent, in Greek it’s metanoia, which means to change one’s mind, which then also begins to change one’s heart. When that happens, conversion or transformation can take root.
In a similar way, Jesus talks about a woman who loses a coin. She lights a lamp, sweeps, does some work in her house to find that coin. She has 10, so losing one still leaves her with 9. But, she still knows something is missing. When she finds it, she calls in her friends and neighbors and celebrates as well.
Again, the writer says God does the same.
Jesus is trying to tell us that we all experience being lost. And that God wants us to be found and is searching us all out. Sinners and Pharisees. When we experience things in our lives where we know something is missing inside of us, or maybe even outside of us. When we know we feel empty or alone, or when we have done something to others or others have done something to us, that those can be opportunities to search for something of great value within us and with others.
The sinners, well, in this story, they repent and move forward. Jesus isn’t trying to control them, on the contrary, he’s freeing them and leading them towards a great treasure. Relational connection within themselves, others, and God. Life begins to be a joy and a cause for celebration.
On the other hand, the religious leaders can’t let go of their stuff. When they lose it, they simply circle the wagons, silo themselves off, they don’t do the hard work of searching for what is lost, but settle for what they have left. When they see Jesus, when they experience the crowds coming around Jesus, they grumble and complain that Jesus is doing right or the way they’ve always done things. So, they end up becoming more bitter, more anxious.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t give up on them either. They may not know they are lost, they may not even want to be found. But, they are still human and still connected…so their is hope for them also to experience God’s love and to celebrate and experience real life.
There’s a lot in this morning’s passage for us. Where do we find ourselves in these stories? Are we lost and are we willing to look for what we’ve lost? Are we willing to do the work to find ourselves in a place of growth and love in our lives? Or, are we OK to settle for what we think we have? Are we willing to know who we are and look at ourselves with honest first before we complain and grumble about what others do or don’t do? Will we choose bitterness and lostness or celebration with each other and joy in friendships?