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Stop complaining and start rejoicing!
Tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." So He spoke this parable, saying:
"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
Luke 15:1-10 NKJV, condensed
Where's the Problem?
The religious folks called them sinners. Jesus said they were lost. Lost like a sheep wandering from the fold, like a coin that dropped unnoticed to the floor, like a son declaring his independence, like the elder brother who refused to welcome the errant one home.
This 15th chapter of Luke is perhaps the best-loved chapter in the Bible. Oddly, both saints and sinners agree on that. But the setting for these parables puts those saints and sinners at odds with each other. Had the scribes and Pharisees expressed their thoughts it might have sounded like this: "When Jesus meets two merchants and one is dishonest and shady in his dealings and the other is trustworthy, Jesus likes the shyster more! He even goes into their homes and enjoys their companionship!" There was something wrong with that picture and they complained to Jesus about it.
Jesus agreed there was a problem but that's were the agreement ended and the line between saint and sinner blurred. God's problem was not only with sinners but also with saints whose chief concern was maintenance. God's primary concern was saving those who were lost.
So the Friend of sinners told his lost and found stories about a sheep herder and a woman with a missing coin. Sheep don't deliberately run away from their shepherd. They just drift away without realizing it while munching on their favorite vegetation. Not until they startle or darkness descends do they look up and find themselves alone and unprotected.
The misplaced coin had not gone anywhere except out of sight. A silver piece represented a day's wages and did no one any good when it was temporarily out of circulation. It may have been part of the traditional scarf which a young lady put together before she could marry. Ten silver pieces were sewn into a long strip of cloth which she could wear as a necklace or tie about her head.
The lost are like the missing sheep and coin. And God, who is relentless in tracking them down, needs help not hindrances. Notice the all-out energy that went into the search in both stories. Leaving the ninety-nine faithful sheep in a makeshift enclosure, the shepherd pursued the stray until he found it. Then carried it home triumphantly on his shoulders. The women burned the midnight oil. She swept her house thoroughly, examining every nook and cranny until she found her coin. We hear their shouts of joy and understand their heartfelt relief. But what is joy without someone to share it! So they called in friends and neighbors to help them celebrate.
With these stories Jesus described the joy God experiences when one who was lost is finally found. God throws a party and looks for friends and neighbors to join the celebration. Which brings us to another of God's problems. Where are God's friends? In this instance, they stayed away from the party? They weren't rejoicing. They were complaining instead!
We could focus on the lost ones who wander in the wilderness, aimless and drifting, going further and further away from the fold of their Good Shepherd. Or we could talk about the sin and waste of being out of circulation and not living up to our high purpose of love and service to God and our neighbor.
But these parables are about the search and the celebration. When you and I are not part of the search we are part of the problem. If you and I are not rejoicing with the jubilant Shepherd, we are probably lost in miserable attitudes such as cynicism and superiority. Jesus had a right to feel that way, too, but he rejected those temptations. We need to turn from those unlovely attitudes also, and trade in our misery for the joy of the Lord. Friends of God must be a friend to sinners, too.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What have you celebrated lately?
When you hear that a well-known public figure has "turned to God", do you tend to be skeptical or do you rejoice? Give some specific examples and share the reasons for your reactions. Must people prove the sincerity of their words before you believe them?
If anyone had a right to be cynical about the human race, it was Jesus. What kept Jesus from giving up on people? What do we learn from Jesus which gives us hope that people can change and the lost, both saints and sinners, be turned around?
Do you consider yourself to be a friend of God? If so, what does being a friend of God mean to you? How do you share in the joys and grief of God?
When someone falls from grace do you mock and attack them verbally? Or grieve for them and try to do or say something constructive? Why are we so quick to condemn and so slow to befriend them?
Describe Jesus' attitude toward the lost and what he did to befriend and bring them back into the fold.
If you ever brought someone to Jesus, describe what that experience was like.
Where do you see yourself in this passage? When have you been disagreeable like the scribes and Pharisees? Or felt like the lost sheep or the lost coin? When have you searched for the lost, far and wide or in your own home? When have you rejoiced with the angels?
Whether it's one in a hundred or one in ten, each person is equally important to God. Do we really believe this? Did the scribes and Pharisees believe it? Is it right to ignore 99 sheep and focus all attention on the one that is lost?
We often think it is people who search for God; but in these parables it is God who does the seeking. What does this tell us?