The Parable of the Lost Sheep Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 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. The Parable of the Lost Coin ‘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.’
Lost sheep and coins, I have to tell you only in a church will you hear someone talk about the spiritual and metaphorical meaning behind coins and sheep, well maybe on a farm you’ll hear about sheep. For many of us lost keys and phones might be more relatable metaphors. Who hasn’t at one point or another taken part in the frantic and frenetic search for house or car keys, or in my case church keys. Did you know there is a whole segment of products dedicated and designed to help you not lose your keys: lanyards, clips, etc. Here are the top ten tips (according to the internet) to help you not lose your keys:
• Invest in a Bluetooth Key Finder
• Stay Organized
• Put Back Things Where They Belong
• Train Your Mind
• Scan the Room for Objects Before Leaving
• Make Use of Reminders – like sticky notes
• Wear Clothes with Secure Pockets
• Using a Large and Obnoxious Keychain
• Have a Spare Key Made and Store it Wisely
• Stop and Think (my favourite!)
Have you ever noticed when you lose your keys, all the helpful suggestions you have given someone else in the past don’t occur to you, or you realize are not really helpful. My favourite suggestion is, “well where did you leave them last?” If you could remember then you wouldn’t have lost them in the first place!
We are familiar with that feeling of losing keys, panic followed by determination, “I will find these things,” we tell our selves, “Not only because I need them, but to prove that I can!” Somehow it becomes a challenge that you must win, your opponent is, well, your absentminded self, or perhaps universal forces conspiring to ruin your day. In either case you search diligently. When you find them there is a feeling of satisfaction, perhaps chagrin that it took you so long to find them. Then comes the repentance that you will be more mindful next time. You WILL be organized and put a hook up by the door where you will always put your keys the minute you walk in the door.
To find what is lost, it is a feeling we are familiar with, often that in the very tangible sense.
Finding what is lost is also about that that deeper metaphorical sense of perhaps rediscovering an aspect of yourself you thought gone, repairing a broken relationship, or experiencing radical welcome and inclusion. This deeper metaphorical and spiritual meaning is to which our scriptures point.
Jesus is teaching the crowds once again. He is drawing near him sinners and tax collectors two groups that Jesus ate with and welcomed to the consternation of the religious authorities. They grumble because Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus then does what he does best, teaching using tangible examples that people are familiar with in order that people might understand who God is and what God’s kingdom – God’s world is like. He tells a parable about finding what is lost, knowing that tax collectors and sinners are deemed the “lost,” not worth the time of saving. He tells two stories (well actually three, he tells a third of the prodigal son). The first story is about a shepherd who searches for a lost sheep and a woman who has lost a coin.
Why shepherds and why a woman? Perhaps because these were people that didn’t hold much status in Jesus’ time, women and shepherd were not consider trustworthy, their testimony mistrusted in legal courts. The Romans considered shepherds vagrants, their shepherd’s crook a tool and a weapon. Shepherds would also travel in groups, where there was one there was another. I can’t help but imagine Shepherds as teenagers – society assuming they are up to no good, travelling in suspicious groups. Nevertheless, everyone could understand a shepherd who would search for a lost sheep, and if you lost a coin you would search for it. Jesus uses these two stories as an example to teach the crowds about who God is, who is welcome and what is worth rejoicing over, worth saving – sinners and those untrustworthy.
To find what is lost, what does this mean? I used the tangible example of keys, and Jesus talks about coins and sheep. The word used for lost in the text like all of the scriptures is a translation, and has a literal meaning of “away from.” It is also translated elsewhere in the New Testament as “utterly destroyed.” To be lost in this case, is not just something physically missing, but also that deeper moral and spiritual sense of being separated, away, or the feeling of being utterly destroyed, broken.
Jesus tells the crowds that heaven rejoices when what was lost is found, when those who are sinners repent or change their ways. To rejoice is more than a celebration it means literally to identify with grace, or to experience God’s grace. These two parables or metaphorical stories, speak about those who are separated, away from, deemed lost by their culture and society being sought out. They are sought out with the diligence of someone who has lost a coin (or keys) or a shepherd who is missing a sheep. They are sought so that they may identify with and experience God’s grace. Jesus shifts the conversation from who is lost to the expectation of those in authority to seek the lost.
Who are we, who are you, in this parable – in this vision of God’s world and responsible leadership? Do we rejoice when the lost is found or recall all the things that led to the lost being separated? Will you be the broom that sweeps the house so that the coin might be found, will you be the lamp lighting the path for the broom. Will we be the hook placed at the door so that when the keys are found they have a permanent home? Will you be the other shepherd that takes care of the first shepherds flock of 99, so that first shepherd can go search for the lost sheep? I ask us, will we recall a time when we were once lost sheep, the coin that fell into the cracks of the floor?
In Jesus time there were no shortage of people deemed unworthy or lost, and likewise there is no shortage in our time. There is also no shortage of evil, injustice and sin in our world, we know that, some of us more intimately than others. For all the injustice and evil, there is also abundant grace in the world. The grace we experience when we gather around the table, breaking bread with stranger and friend. The grace found at the baptism font in the welcome of families and new members. The grace recalled when a loved one dies – a sorrowful remembrance and rejoicing of the life passed. The grace of a God who took human form and welcomed sinners and sojourners, poor and prideful, simple and saintly to his table. There is grace and a God who seeks us like the woman who lost a coin.
In the church you may hear words like seeking and journey, or “seek and ye shall find,” with the onus on us to do the searching. Jesus’ parable asks us to imagine that God is that woman who lost a coin, who searches for us like keys, who searches like that shepherd who lifts the lost sheep onto their shoulders. Jesus asks us to conceive of a God ever seeking us so that we might experience grace, experience joyful celebration and a love that does not let go. Imagine if we thought of God as seeking and desiring relationship with us and the world. And what if we saw ourselves as part of God’s ministry that seeks out relationship? One commentary on this scripture noted that the “burden of seeking the lost is not solely ours.” Seeking the lost is not our job alone. We work with God in creating a community that is prepared to receive those that God brings into our lives, and we celebrate and figure out how to work together.
The lesson we might learn from this parable is that God is the one who seeks, never gets tired and celebrates – rejoices when the lost is found. The next time you misplace your keys and search diligently for them, remember that God is seeking you like you are for your keys, like a shepherd searching for the missing sheep, and like the woman searching for a lost coin. Amen.