While heaven rejoiced, the religious muttered (Luke 15: 1 – 10).
What a sad and telling indictment on those who had at one time been lost themselves and now considered themselves to be found. How easy it is to forget the bewilderment, uncertainty and anxiety caused by finding ourselves in the place of dark, aloneness and disorientation. If any should have been welcoming the sinners and tax collectors, it should have been those who themselves have been lost but now rejoice in being found, held and loved with mercy and compassion.
So comfortable had they become, it seems, in their traditional righteousness, Jesus left them alone to fend for themselves, while he searched for those who had become detached and lost. This is an important theme. This was not Jesus telling stories about going out after those who had never belonged but rather seeking out those who had at one time been part of the community and now had been detached, for whatever reason (traditions, structures and attitudes of the religious?), from the faith and supposedly beyond grace.
Jesus offers two remarkably poignant stories of himself and his mission. There is the image of the shepherd going out after the sheep which has been lost, with which we are all familiar. Then, in addition, there is the image of Jesus as a diligent woman (a tax collector’s wife or mother?) lighting lamps and sweeping floors; perhaps an image with which we are less familiar. In both instances, the issue is that, while what was left was valuable in itself, so also were the ones that had been lost. Perhaps a further challenge was being highlighted which indicated that the whole was not complete without the lost being counted, found and celebrated as well.
Could it be, then the real indictment was that those who had been found had lost their awareness of the value, before God, of those who had become detached and lost. The lost were not so lost that they were beyond grace. The religious had placed a higher value on their religious tradition and practice and were in danger of becoming lost again themselves because they failed to value those whom God valued so much that He sent his Son to find them… us… me!
In the stories, the credibility, integrity and trustworthiness of shepherd and housewife alike are dependent on finding what has been lost. Could it be said, the credibility, integrity and trustworthiness of Jesus is also dependant on His search for the world which is never beyond his grace and, therein, finding the lost? Yet what of the church, wherein lies our credibility, integrity and trustworthiness? In muttering or seeking?
Upon finding that which was lost, the woman and the shepherd each invites friends and neighbours to rejoice with them. Maybe we should note, the religious are not included here. Yet, if we want an example of a real church plant, a new fresh expression of missionary joyfulness, then do we need to look much further?
Lord, have mercy…