Jesus is accused of mixing with the wrong sort. When did you last get "amongst notorious sinners" and share food with them?
Jesus didn't bother about his reputation in the way that we too often do. There was always an important issue at stake - the preaching (living out) of the Kingdom of Heaven, where grace rules supreme.
In this parable we see that God is like a Good Shepherd who goes after the one that's lost.
It's not that he doesn't care about the 99 - they've got each other - they can love and support one another - they've been with the Good Shepherd all this time - they've watched him, seen his ways, learned from him, received something of his Spirit - and now they can put what they've learned into practise in his absence - and wait on their Master's return - and rejoice with him when he brings home the one that was lost.
Rejoicing is a mark of God's Kingdom. It happens when sinners turn back to God, hear his voice of love and respond to that grace soaked call. We who profess the name Christian can all identify with this. We heard the call and chose to return. And that call probably came through a faithful friend, someone who had the courage to share something of their own fragile faith with us, who didn't keep it to themselves but had the courage to invest it in us. Thank God for them and for their willingness to get amongst us.
It would be wrong to assume that the parable teaches that we in the Church are like the 99 sheep who just need to sit back and let the Good Shepherd get on with the search and rescue operation, bringing back the lost ones single handed, like a comic cosmic superhero. Or that we in the Church are like the 9 'safe' coins who let the woman do all the work in seeking the lost coin.
So if not that, then what do the Lukan parables teach us today?
God Cares For The Lost
He doesn't sit back and leave things to go bad. He actively pursues those who go their own way. How many of us can look back and see occasions when we were not close to God but something happened, someone appeared, or there was a sign reminding us, drawing us, beckoning us to turn our lives around. Maybe things had to hit rock bottom before we saw it, maybe even that's where you feel you are today, and if so, you might need to know that that's not the end of the story.
God cares for the lost. He is the Hound of Heaven who, in love, hunts, pursues, goes after those who have strayed. It follows then, that those who follow Christ must follow suit. They too must become little hounds of heaven, roaming amongst the notorious ones with the aroma of Jesus wafting from their pores.
Heaven Rejoices When The Lost Are Found
Rejoicing is the song of our new life in Christ. There's a lovely Swaziland hymn which goes:
We will walk with God my brothers 'til the Kingdom has come
We will walk with God my sisters 'til the Kingdom has come
We will go rejoicing 'til the Kingdom has come
We will go rejoicing 'til the Kingdom has come
John Newton wrote the famous lines:
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see
To describe what it was like to experience God's amazing grace and to taste the joy of heaven, spilling over into the earth, heaven touching earth.
When a person returns back to God there is an explosion of joy in heaven the sparks of which ignites hearts on earth. There's no greater thrill than to see someone discovering for the first time, or rediscovering again, the amazing grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ, and to see his love, joy and peace begin to grow again in a person's life. When we see that we are all touched by this heavenly outpouring and we want to respond in thanksgiving and rejoicing.
Notice in both parables (and in the parable of the Lost Son which follows) there is the invitation to "rejoice with me because I have found" what was lost. Heaven rejoices and the earth is drawn into that joy. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that heaven appears on earth. No wonder we pray "your Kingdom come Lord, on earth as in heaven".
There is a oneness, a unity of earth and heaven which happens when a person turns back and is united with God again (maybe for the 100th time) and the separation ends, the divorce is healed, the split is mended, the distance disappears. Because God cares and heaven rejoices.
So what is our role in all of this? God chooses to use each of us, individually and together, as little Christs wherever we are. Which will mean mixing with all sorts of people and not keeping ourselves solely among the Holy Willie's.
So, in the workplace, in the shopping centre or in our neighbourhood, we each have the opportunity to exercise something of the welcoming ministry of Jesus which shows that God cares for the lost as well as the found, and actively pursues people, looking for opportunities to rejoice with them over the tiny victories which the Spirit of Christ will bring. May we pray that the Light of Christ shines brightly in our land.
We are Examples of God's Great Patience
Paul writes to Timothy about his own faith journey describing himself as once having been the worst of all sinners but recognising that:
God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.
'If he can rescue me he can save anyone' is not a bad mantra to hold. It allows for the possibility for anything to happen in our relationships. No one is seen to be too far from God. All are seen as being precious to God and wanted by him. We who profess the name Christian, are examples of God's great patience. The God whom the Bible tells us is so patient, who does not want a single sheep to be lost, is choosing to use you and I as examples of what he has done already, and of what he will go on doing until all are caught in his web of love. What a privilege to be a part of this. What a calling.