A couple of events in the last few days (sorry, no details) have left me thinking hard about one of my favorite stories Jesus tells in the Luke’s gospel:
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. ’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:1-7 ESV)
The first thing that occurs to me is while we often time think of Jesus hanging out with sinners, we don’t really have many narrative descriptions of Jesus supping with sinners. A few passages (I’ve not done an exhaustive study, and I promise I will). Mostly, what we have is Jesus supping with Pharisees and scribes, who then accuse him of spending too much time with sinners. Which is not quite the same thing.
But mostly I’ve thought about lost sheep.
Virtually everyone in the English-speaking world knows the first verse of “Amazing Grace,” and that marvellous line which says
I once was lost,
But now am found,
But now, I see.
Jesus speaks of a man who has a hundred sheep — a shepherd — and one wanders away. And he leaves the 99 behind, leaves them to fend for themselves (because they can, because together they are safe), to go find the sheep who has wandered off.
We use the world lost, as in missing or misplaced or we don’t know where it is. But the sheep isn’t so much missing as it was disconnected. Maybe the shepherd doesn’t know where it is, even as he searches to find his lost charge. But perhas the shepherd knows exactly where the sheep is.
(Because there are only so many places sheep can wander off to…)
Which means it isn’t lost at all. Instead, what you have is a frightened, anxious sheep that has no idea where it is. That feels like lost to the sheep, as it bleets and howls and its terror and panic, but it isn’t the same as being lost. It isn’t the same thing at all.
To be lost like this is to feel disconnected from the herd, from the community of people God cares for and has gathered. The community we know in our bones we belong to. The gathering we need to feel safe and secure, to know we are tended and cared for. The sheep isn’t lost — it’s alone, separated, and frightend. That’s a terror that can wrap us up tight, and it feels like we’re lost when we look around and see nothing familiar and no one we know and the darkness looms and we fear we’ll never make home alive, that we’ll die here, alone, in the wilderness, abandoned and lost.
But … The shepherd knows where we are. Even when we do not. The sheperd goes to find us. Because the shepherd knows we belong to him. And when we are found, when we no longer have cause to be anxious and afraid, then we can all celebrate. Because we are found.
Because we are found.