By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Luke 15:1–10 (ESV)
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. 8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
One of the most interesting things about Jesus that I have noticed is the types of people that were attracted to him. I have been a part of the church since I was a child. I am not a preacher’s kid but about as close to it as one could get without being one. My stepdad has been the clerk of the meeting for as long as I can remember and he has lead worship for most of my life, which he has passed over to some of the youth in the meeting now. He has served on yearly meeting boards and is comfortable filling the pulpit when the need arises. He says that he was called to be a farmer, but I kind of question that a bit. I think he has been the assistant pastor of my home meeting for my entire life. My dad is also greatly involved in the church. He is a lay minister within the Methodist Church, and I have rarely seen him at church without his guitar. I grew up with church being central to my life. It was just part of life. We worked hard for six days and always worshipped on the seventh. It was rare that we missed any function of the church and many of the vacations that we took revolved around it. If the church needed repairs, we where there. If a class needed taught, we were there. If someone needed a ride to camp or yearly meeting sessions, we loaded that bags and topping off the tank to make the trip. The church has been such a part of my life that I simply cannot imagine life without it.
But I am not the world’s perfect person. I have not always been a saint, let me rephrase that I have never been a saint. I can be selfish. I am often upset without a real reason. I work too much and get pretty stressed out if I do not have money in the bank. I say that I can’t imagine not being in active in a church community, if I am totally honest, I would have to say I would not know what to do if I only worked one job. My entire adult life has been constantly on the go. This has been so much of the case that when James went to basic training I had a bit of an emotional crisis because I did not know for sure if he really knew how much I loved him, I did not know if I took enough time to actually show him how important he was to me. It broke me.
I mention all this because I think I could make a case to be part of a religious class of people. We often speak of the pharisees in negative terms within the church. We act as if they were some bizarre class of religious people but let’s really consider who they were. The pharisees were committed, devoted, practitioners of religious life. If we were to take the name of pharisee off the record and described them in terms most of us would understand, what we would see would be the people that keep a worshiping community together. They were the people that came to the business meeting and provided the time and effort to keep the building in shape. They were the people that contributed financially to the ministries, to the point that the budgets and accounting could be planned. They were wealthy businessmen, they were teachers, and could be counted on to speak a word of encouragement to a gathering. They would be the one that offered a prayer at the banquet or a meeting. We would want pharisees because the pharisees kept the place of worship going. The pharisees were committed. They were knowledgeable, they knew just what to do and when to do it, these were the leaders within a community and the ones that anyone in the religious community would want to keep happy because without the pharisees the future of a worship community would be unsure.
I want us to think about the pharisees in this way because in all reality we have a great deal in common with them. The pharisees are the keepers of tradition and faith. If you are or have ever served on a church committee at any level, if you have ever taught a Sunday school class, or have done any service in the name of the church you have a strong predisposition of being a pharisee. And the more committed you are to a religious group the greater chance you exhibit pharisee like traits. It is nearly impossible to exhibit these types of traits because the more committed you are to a religious faith, the more training you have received, the more leadership you give the more invested you are in that community and the more likely you are to resist any change within that group because it has become part of your identity . I am in that group, not just because I am a pastor, but because I am an elder. But even beyond that, I have been very active in the church from early on in my life, so I was a pharisee type of person even before I entered church leadership, and the fact that I have been accepted in the roles I have filled is because people know that I am a keeper of tradition and faith.
If you were to list off the traits of a pharisee and place it beside a list of my dominate traits there would be very little difference. I am a pharisee. When Jesus speaks out against the pharisees he is speaking to me and people like me. One of the greatest things our Yearly Meeting Lead Superintendent says is that he is a recovering Pharisee. I like that terminology because it is so very true. It is very easy to get so wrapped up into the politics of religion. It is extremely easy to think that our way of thinking is the only way and close our minds off to a different perspective. And when we close our minds off to looking at things from a different perspective, we often prevent participation.
Jesus comes into the scene. He is clearly a devout and religious individual, but he does things a bit different. Because he approaches faith from a different perspective it attracts attention. Everyone in the area is paying attention to Jesus. He has recently healed a woman in the synagogue as well as in the middle of a banquet thrown by a leader of the pharisees. People are following him around the countryside. I completely understand the fear that pharisees might be feeling because people talk to me about these things. I am constantly asked questions about faith. I give my perspective and people give their perspective that might be like an ideology that I personally do not consider to be correct. They speak to me about these things and I want to tell them that they are wrong and list off every reason why. Jesus keeps teaching, and people keep coming to listen. And the pharisees observe that there are people of questionable reputations gathered around Jesus. They already had disdain for Jesus because he did not respect their traditions. He brought a woman into the synagogue and healed her on the sabbath, and he had the nerve to tell them that they were wrong. Now they are looking at Jesus surrounded by tax collectors and sinners and this again upsets them, how can he consider himself righteous when those sorts of people are visiting?
The grumbling that they speak of some scholars liken to the grumbling that the Israelites had during their wonderings in the desert with Moses. We might not think much of this but those grumblings against God and in response to selfish desires. They are grumbling not because Jesus had done anything wrong, but he is not doing it their way.
In response to these grumblings Jesus tells a parable. “A man that has one hundred sheep, loses one and he leaves the ninety-nine to find the one that was lost. And when he finds it, he puts it over his shoulder and rejoices. He is so excited about recovering this lost sheep that he calls all his friends over to rejoice with him.” Why does Jesus tell a parable like this? We must remember who Jesus is speaking to at that time. In the first century, Judea is largely agrarian. Much of their economy is based on providing the basics of life. This means that most of what they produce revolves around food, and probably clothing. When Jesus speaks of a lost sheep, he is speaking about the manner of life the people around him live. We might not quite understand what it might mean to lose a sheep, because it is just an animal. If you were someone that raised sheep today this one sheep would represent approximately $300 for the animal itself. But Sheep are not only raised for their physical bodies each sheep can produce a fleece that can weight approximately twenty pounds, and the current market price for wool depending on the quality can bring in $2 to $10 per pound, so the potential of this sheep is $200 a year. And each sheep can live approximately 10 years, so we are talking about $2300. If this sheep was a female, then this one sheep has the potential of increasing the herd by one to three lambs a year so over the course of this sheep’s lifetime the profit potential of this one sheep can generate is approximately $62,000. How many of us would just let $62,000 walk away? This is being very optimistic, but I think we understand the point. Each lamb is important for those that raise sheep.
In the kingdoms of men, we understand the value of items. Each item that we attribute a value too, we will guard to the best of our ability because those are the things that are going to provide for our lifestyle. This past week the store I work at had its annual inventory. For those that do not work in retail, inventory determines how efficient our store is, because it determines how much inventory we had lost over the past year. When a store loses inventory, it affects the store’s ability to operate. Most people do not think of inventories in the way that people in asset protection do, but when a store loses inventory, it loses sales, and when a store lose sales, they lose profit. In the stores that I have worked at we have lost around a half of a million dollars a year. This loss represents many things. But the most important thing is that it means the limitation of at least ten jobs.
This is economics but Jesus is speaking to people whose minds are caught in the kingdoms of men. Their minds revolve around the things that they attribute value to, just like us. The loss of one sheep in today’s world would be the equivalent of the loss of an entire year of wages. That is important to us. The amount of theft that occurs in the stores around the metro could result in the addition of ten jobs each. That’s important. The pharisees understand that, they are people of intelligence. They understand the loss of a sheep because their lives depend on them. What they do not understand is the value of the person they are judging.
In God’s economy the things that hold value are different than the things that hold value to mankind. Jesus is trying to explain this in a way that those around him will understand. God values every human life because each human being bears the image of God. On the sixth day of creation God said “let use create man in our image, after our likeness. Giving them dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. In God’s economy humanity is the thing of value. God values humanity to such a degree that he risked all of creation for us. There came a time where God nearly wiped us all out, but he resisted and used Noah and his family to reset humanity. He continued to love mankind, so he called one family, Abraham to reveal himself to the world. Humanity continued to reject God’s economy, so he again chose one family to reveal himself through, Israel. Again, and again God used people within the world to shine the light of his revelation to the world. And we as humans continue to turn away. Finally, God decided to come himself, he chose to live among mankind and show us exactly what he values. The message of God has not changed through all human history. From the dawn of human existence God desired only one thing his creation to live in communion with him. His delight was to walk with his groundlings in the garden as they both male and female enjoyed the simple beauty of life.
But we turned. We as humans get distracted and we begin to chase after other things, we lose our innocence and we turn from God. Yet he calls out to us to come back. We run away seeking our own ways, our own desires, our own fulfillment yet God comes after us. He seeks us out and he rejoices when we are found. This is the parable of the lost sheep. A story that has been told and retold countless times throughout history. We turn and God finds us. We turn again and yet again God comes to find us. Again, we turn, we run, we hide and again God comes to find us. We scream out to him why won’t you just leave us alone, and he responds with I love you.
The pharisees do not understand the economy of God, and many of us get distracted as well. We begin to think that God loves us because we are good people. God loves us because we have chosen to follow him. God loves us because we or more likely God loves me because I deserve it. Each of us have run from God. We might be running from God at this very moment, because if we reject those that God loves we reject the very things that God loves.
The sinners and the tax collectors eagerly approached Jesus. It makes me wonder, why? The community around them were filled with religious people and the gospel indicates that some of these supposed sinners were part of the worshiping community, yet they were not accepted. Several of these supposed sinners were people employed by there very people that rejected them. The shepherd was often included among the sinners, even though that lifestyle was the lifestyle of their forefathers and was the life of their beloved King David prior to his assertion to the throne. In the mind of the pharisees many of those very people that served them would be considered sinners, because they did not have the time and money to live the devoted life encouraged by the religious leaders. One could almost assume that according to teachings during this time frame the poor were considered sinners, because they were not blessed with wealth.
But Jesus did not reject the poor, he did not reject the hurting, injured or sick. He did not reject sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes or even the Roman soldiers. Jesus is said to not give preference to anyone but allowed anyone to approach, even women and children. The results of Jesus’s lifestyle changed lives within that community. Tax collectors stopped exploiting, those bound by spirits were freed and became contributing members of society, even those that were exiled due to leprosy when they approached Jesus returned to the community. This happened only because of God’s love for them.
About once a week a meme goes around the internet among my friends. The meme states that a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to get one seems foolish until you are the one. I have been the one. I am not a saint by any stretch of the imagination. I have been that one that Jesus came after. We each might at this moment be safe within the flock, we each might be right where we are supposed to be, this does not mean we are better than anyone because each of us might wonder off at any moment, because we are like sheep. The good thing about that is God does not judge our value the way we judge value, and he left his throne in Heaven to live among mankind to bring each of us wondering sheep home. And for each person that is loved by Christ turns, or more accurately returns to him we should be happy. Because who among us would be willing to potentially lose a years’ wages, how much more valuable are those among us who are loved by the one whose image we bear.
As we enter this time of holy expectancy and communion in the manner of Friends, let us remember who we truly are and why we are here. Let us remember who we were and who we hope to be. Let us remember how and who influenced us in our lives of faith and let us strive to become people who love God, embrace the Holy Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others.