Have you ever lost your keys?
I have. And I panic because my life depends on the keys getting me where I need to go. I search the entire house – upstairs, downstairs, on my desk, in the kitchen, anywhere I might have left them. There is a part of me that is afraid I won’t find them. So when I do find them I’m relieved and joyful.
In the gospel of Luke (15:1-10), Jesus tells two parables about losing things. A shepherd loses a sheep and a woman loses a coin. The shepherd leaves his other 99 sheep to go in search of the one missing sheep, searching diligently until he finds it. And when he finds the lost sheep, the shepherd calls all his neighbors to celebrate. In the second parable, the woman, when she learns that she has lost one of her ten coins, works hard to find it.
She searches every corner of her house until she finds it. And when she finds the missing coin, she also calls her neighbors to celebrate.
This, Jesus says, is what God is like. He searches diligently for the lost. He will go as far as necessary just as the shepherd did. He will work as hard as possible, just as the women did. He seeks to be reunited with those who have gone astray. He wants to bless all his people with a relationship with him. This is God’s desire. He is merciful even to those who have gone astray. And when he finds his lost people, there is great joy in heaven, not only from God but from all God’s people.
But there were some people who were not happy with Jesus’ attitude. Jesus told these parables to the religious leaders. Tax collectors and others who were known to be sinners, had been coming to hear Jesus preach. They were attracted by what he said and they wanted to know more. But the religious leaders – the Pharisees and the scribes – criticized Jesus for welcoming these people into his company.
“He even eats with them,” they charged. They thought that righteous, godly people should only associate with others who were righteous. God, they thought, would only care about those who were upright and followed the law – those who had earned a right relationship with God. Therefore they did not like that Jesus showed compassion to sinners.
Sometimes we don’t like it, either.
When God’s mercy flows, it sometimes violates our sense of fairness. God’s mercy is not based on merit. Instead it does flow from his generous love. If I have a sense of scarcity, if I believe there is a limit to God’s ability to bless, if I don’t trust that God will provide what I need, then I can end up resenting the blessings that God gives to others. And I can tell you that this has happened to me. There have been times when I have seen God’s generous blessing of others and been jealous. I have been unable to celebrate their blessings.
In these times I realize that I can’t save myself, no matter how hard I try. I realize that I, too, need to be found. I, too, need mercy. I, too, need God’s gracious love. And then Jesus is there searching for me – calling my name – longing for my return. When I realize that I am no different – no better, no worse – than any of the Lord’s other sheep, then I know the truth. I have been blessed, just like the other lost sheep.
This is a cause for celebration! The Lord God seeks out each of us. He longs to be in a relationship with us. And when I realize that this blessing is not just me – but all of us – then I can join the party that’s already in progress.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill.