1 Tax collectors and sinners were all crowding around to listen to Jesus. 2So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law of Moses started grumbling, “This man is friendly with sinners. He even eats with them.”
3Then Jesus told them this story:
4If any of you has 100 sheep, and one of them gets lost, what will you do? Won't you leave the 99 in the field and go look for the lost sheep until you find it? 5And when you find it, you will be so glad that you will put it on your shoulder 6and carry it home. Then you will call in your friends and neighbors and say, “Let's celebrate! I've found my lost sheep.”
7Jesus said, “In the same way there is more happiness in heaven because of one sinner who turns to God than over 99 good people who don't need to.”
8Jesus told the people another story:
What will a woman do if she has ten silver coins and loses one of them? Won't she light a lamp, sweep the floor, and look carefully until she finds it? 9Then she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, “Let's celebrate! I've found the coin I lost.”
10Jesus said, “In the same way God's angels are happy when even one person turns to him.”
Have you ever lost anything? Keys? Glasses? Cell phone? Tax receipt?
Do I need to ask? If some of the stories in this gospel need a bit of background information, this chapter certainly doesn’t.
Notice the way that Luke introduces these parables. There’s a crowd. In it are wealthy people who had got rich by dubious means, poor people who were reduced to stealing in order to feed their children, women in transition houses, street people, . . well, I paraphrase, but you get the point. These people all crowded around Jesus, hanging on every word. On the other hand, on the fringe of the crowd, listening just to check out what was going on, were the respectable religious elite, muttering under their breath. What Jesus was saying didn’t square with their views.
It’s to these people that Jesus tells his stories about lost things – sheep, money, and then a son.
The first two stories set up the story of the son, which is told in much more detail.
In our family it was a precious teddy bear that was lost. At Heathrow airport. I was travelling with my two children from Canada, and didn’t realize until too late that I was missing a bag—the bag in which I had packed my daughter’s teddy. All attempts to recover it were hopeless. Six weeks later, when we were back in Canada, my daughter looked for her teddy on her bed where she thought she had left it. I had to confess to her that I had put it in the lost bag. She was distraught – and then prayed that God would bring back her lost teddy! The very next day I heard from Heathrow that they had my bag, and later that day I picked it up at the airport – with Teddy inside.
That was forty years ago. We will never forget the joy of finding the lost teddy.
That’s how God feels when a sinner comes back to him. Test yourself: When you stray, do you expect God to welcome you back with joy? Or do you expect him to lecture you, and say grudgingly that it’s okay? When you confess your sins, do you even think he cares?
Our Father, please forgive us when we think of you as authoritarian and distant, and forget how much you love us and care about us when we go astray. How little we realize that we can give you joy! Amen.