In the Gospel today, our Lord asks the men who had gather around him, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost?” And our Lord asks the women, “Or what woman, having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?” And then afterward throw an elaborate party? The answer, of course, was obvious to everyone then, and should be obvious to everyone now…no one. No one called to protect a flock of a hundred would risk the safety of ninety-nine to find only one that was lost. And no one finding a coin would throw a rager for friends that would cost ten times the amount of the coin lost in the first place. That’s just absurd. Jesus’ audience would have laughed out loud at just the thought of such blatant irresponsibility and folly.
But Jesus holds up these examples to the religious do-gooders of his day–the Pharisees and Scribes. They saw Jesus surrounded by Jerusalem’s undesirables–tax collectors and sinners. Jesus didn’t look down his nose at sinners. He didn’t judge them harshly and keep his distance from them. No, he loved them, and all throughout his ministry he showed us that God loves them too. How is it possible to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and not have a desire to change the lives and outlook of those who have drifted the furthest away from God’s loving embrace?
Today’s Gospel challenges us to ask the question, is he really my Lord? Is he truly my teacher and guide? Is Jesus truly the one I seek to imitate? And if so, what are the obstacles keeping me from having the same concern for the nobodies, those who counted for nothing, that Jesus had? Jesus’ attitude was not political, it was national–it was thoroughly religious–he was trying to teach them the way God see every person that exists: the rich, the poor, the prideful, the sinful, those hopeless and lost causes of the world. The woman pushing the shopping cart that carries everything she owns, and the man on the corner asking for change. God loves them too–and they may be that sheep that went astray, or coin lost.
A gold coin in the palm of my hand might be worth around $2,000, but if it is lost, if it slips through my fingers, it holds no value at all to me. It doesn’t itself lose a single penny of worth, it’s just worth nothing to me. The only way for it to have value to me, is if it is in my possession. And so it is with God, and that’s what Jesus was trying to teach the Scribes and the Pharisees, namely, that a person never loses value in themselves whether sinner or saint–we never lose our value. But when we slip through the father’s hand, when we are far from him, we lose our sense of worth. We may begin to believe that we are worth-less. Jesus knows that each of us is a beautiful coin. Many know their value as they rest in the father’s hand, but some have forgotten their great worth–to God and to the community. The way to discover their dignity is not to leave them lost, but to instead help them to find their way back to the father’s hand. That’s what Jesus was about. And it should be what we are about as well.
This is what Saint Paul wants Timothy to understand in our second reading, and it’s what we must understand as his followers today. He says, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated…Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant… This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That’s it. That’s our message; our business.
“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” The work of the Church is to create joy in heaven, and be the cause of rejoicing among the angels of God over repentant sinners. Would you leave the ninety-nine for that one? Jesus would. So should we.