Reading – Luke 15: 1-10
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.
‘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 neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
There are two key themes which bubble through these two parables; finding and rejoicing. What is interesting is that the rejoicing is done by the one who lost the item, not by the one who was lost. If these parables are helping us understand salvation, you might think it is the one who is saved and rescued that would be rejoicing, but, no, they tell of the joy that there is for the one who finds and how that joy is shared with friends and in heaven
The shepherd, who has spent the night looking for this sheep that has wandered off – and who has had to leave the other sheep maybe with the lad, while he goes off – it is he who has the grin on his face – he is so pleased to have found his lost sheep. The woman who was desperately looking for the lost coin; she calls in the neighbours who may not have even known it was lost – or was there a lot of crashing and banging as she turned the little house upside down?! – and she throws a party. In both parables Jesus invites us to understand how much joy there is in heaven when the lost are found and restored, and that this joy is shared: “Rejoice with me ..”
There is joy in heaven when what was lost is found, when what had gone returns. If we think of God as the judge who condemns and punishes we need to think again. In Eden the man and woman hid from God; here the owner is determined to find what is missing, even if he has 99 others; in fact the one that is missing takes up 99% of his attention.
These are two short vivid parables – they are insights into the person of God, not the complete account of everything. The shepherd is delighted to find his missing sheep, one out of a hundred; the woman the lost coin, one out of 10. In the next parable, the father has a son who leaves (we call him the Prodigal Son), and the father rejoices to see his son returning and makes him so welcome, despite how the son has treated him, but the story continues with an older son who does not rejoice, who goes outside, leaves the house, and the father goes out too to him, asking the older son to come back. We don’t know if he does or not.
If we have grown up in church all our life, if we have always been part of the sheepfold as it were, we may not readily associate with feeling lost and far from God; if we have struggled in life, felt lost and alone, known we have gone wrong, then we – I hope – have known the feeling of God finding us and picking us up, the “welcome home”, that despite all, God loves us and rejoices to have us (back) in his family. Whichever pattern we are in, I hope we can know the joy that God has in us being his child, sense the joy in heaven – how extraordinary that God is so excited and delighted in us, we who are all flawed and who fall short in so many ways.
And if we have not yet discovered and sensed this delight, may we discover it and feel the warmth of God’s grace and love for us, that we are so special to our Creator.
Revd Peter Reiss