The following is a reflection on Luke 15:1-10, the Gospel lesson appointed for Proper 19C of of the Revised Common Lectionary.
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?
Nobody. No one does this. No one would ever do that.
It’s insanity. If you lose 1% of your holdings, you don’t risk losing the 99% of your holdings to get it back. By leaving the 99, you risk them roaming off, being stolen, or being killed and eaten by a wolf.
No one leaves the 99.
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 neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’
Nobody. No one does this.
You don’t call friends and neighbors together for a celebration only to spend more money feeding and entertaining them than what you found was worth. I mean why bother looking for the coin at all, if you’re just going to blow more money anyway?
It’s insanity. Nobody does this.
Jesus does this. Jesus leaves the 99 to search for the lost. Jesus sweeps the house and then throws a party when the lost are found. It’s totally and thoroughly insane. And, that’s why the Gospel it is such Good News.
When a soul is lost, the soul is missed, longed after, and not only worth the search party, but worth the celebration-party when the soul is brought back into the fold.
And, of course, this story cuts two ways. When I read this, I can’t help reading myself into the story as the sheep, as the coin. The lost one. The intransigent sheep. The coin that slipped out of the pocket and into the pillowy cushions of the couch.
But, this story was told to a group of highly religious people who fancied themselves as the 99 sheep—the nine coins that were never lost. They are the goody-two-shoes that would never (ever) run off, who would never (ever) slip under the passenger seat into the carpeted well which never fails to collect all manner of things. These guys aren’t impressed at a God who spends all His time going after the sinner, when God should be spending His time with the well-behaved ones who seemingly never left his side.
But, if they are scandalized, oh well. If they wouldn’t leave the 99, or throw a two-coin party after a one-coin find—oh well.
That is the Good News.
Our God is the God of the lost, and the God who celebrates when the lost are found.
Jesus is the Savior who “welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
This is something for us to celebrate. Something for us to be excited about. Something for us to get others excited about.
No—the church isn’t just for the self-proclaimed self-righteous. The ones who can’t help but tell us how faithful, prayerful, and saintly they are. The ones whose Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook feeds drip with verse after verse of scripture and bumper-sticker quips of how God is for this and against that.
No, the followers of Jesus are the ones who follow Jesus. And not just to the cross. But to the field and the valley and the mountains, looking through the scrub for a well-loved and well-lost sheep. We’re the ones who are to be pulling the world’s refrigerator out from the wall to find the long-lost treasures underneath that are so to precious to God.
Oh, if only people would accuse Jesus’ Church of “welcoming sinners and eating with them.”
Because nobody does that. Except Jesus, and those who follow him.