Lost Valuables: Part 2

“The Woman” 24 x 30 oil on canvas

Excerpt from Paint&Preach August 2017.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about lost valuables. In the first two verses, we are told that the “tax collectors and other notorious sinners,” people who would be considered outcasts by the religious establishment, loved to hang out with Jesus. They loved to hear him teach, and Jesus loved to sit down and share a meal with them. This annoys the religious leaders to no end!

Here is this popular young rabbi who is taking the countryside by storm, and what is he doing? He’s hanging out with sinners, with people who don’t go to church. Good rabbis don’t hang out with sinners, they hang out with church people.

Yet here Jesus is sitting at a table with sinners. In that culture, to eat with someone is to accept them, and here Jesus is accepting the outcasts. And the church people who are watching Jesus like a hawk cannot stand it, and so they complain, “What’s he doing hanging out with riff-raff? Why is he eating with them? Doesn’t he know that’s a tax collector?”

Jesus, like he was known to do, answers their complaining with a story – with three stories. He says, “You want to know why I’m eating with these people? Because I’m the shepherd looking for my lost sheep, and finding them. I’m the woman sweeping the house, turning it upside down looking for my lost coin. I’m the father running to embrace my lost child. You want to know why I’m doing what I’m doing? Because God’s most valuable possession is his people and he can’t stand for even one of them to be lost, to be missing. And when they are, he takes massive action to get them back. And when he finds them he throws a party, he celebrates, just like I’m doing right here with these people.”

Do you remember what it feels like to find a lost valuable? Multiply that feeling times infinity and you will have just a fraction of the way God feels when one of his missing children is found. Lost people, missing people, matter to God. That’s what Jesus is saying in these stories. If the shepherd, and the woman, and the father cared so much and relentlessly searched for what was lost, how much more will God relentlessly search for you when you are lost.

One thing these three stories do for me is change the way I think of the word “lost.” The word “lost” has become part of our Christian vocabulary. When I’ve used the word “lost” I’m usually referring to people who don’t go to church, people who live an immoral life, people who lie, cheat, and steel. Traditionally I’ve use the word lost to refer to people who are outside the will of God, or people who hurt and hate other people. I confess that I’ve used the word lost to make a distinction between “us and them,” between the “insiders and the outsiders.”

Yet in these three stories, Jesus doesn’t use the word “lost” in a pejorative way. According to these three stories, when Jesus refers to people who are “lost” he is saying they are God’s missing valuables, they are God’s missing treasure. If Jesus refers to you as lost he has not insulted you, he has paid you the ultimate compliment. Because to Jesus, lost people are so valuable that he is willing to take massive action to get them back into the house of God, even if it means offending the powers that be and ultimately it cost him his life.

Why is Jesus eating with sinners? Because lost people matter to God! Because God can’t stand for one sheep from his flock, one coin from his treasure, one child from his family to be missing.

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Lost Valuables: Part 1

“The Shepherd” 22×28 oil on canvas by Heather Heflin Hodges

From a Paint&Preach in August 2017

Have you ever lost something of great value and then had the pleasure of finding it again?

One of the best feelings in the world is that wave of relief that washes over you when you find a lost valuable. If you’ve ever felt that feeling then you have been given a key insight into what the kingdom of God, the mission of Jesus, and our mission as a church is all about.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three stories about lost valuables that are found. In each of these three stories Jesus progressively raises the stakes. He begins with one sheep out of a hundred, then it’s one coin out of ten, and then it’s one son out of two. In each of these stories there are several key details that they all have in common.

The first detail is that something valuable is lost.

Looking at the shepherd we might think, one sheep out of a hundred is not that big of a deal. But remember in a shepherding culture the sheep mean more than just mere inventory. The shepherd loved the sheep, he named them and they knew the sound of his voice. He would call them and they would come running. So, to lose even one sheep was a big deal.

When we look at the story of the woman, one out of ten coins doesn’t seem that bad, unless those ten coins comprised her whole dowry. If she came from a poor family and that’s all she had, then losing one coin was a big deal.

Of course, the father who had one of his two sons go off to a distant country was guaranteed plenty of sleepless nights.

A second detail these stories have in common is that the principle character takes massive action to get back what was lost.

When the shepherd realizes one of his sheep is missing he leaves the ninety-nine in the open country, and goes looking for his lost sheep. Leaving ninety-nine sheep in the open country, exposed and vulnerable, sounds like risky business to me, and that’s the point. The sheep is so valuable to the shepherd that he is willing to do whatever it takes to find it. Massive action.

The woman who lost her coin reminds me of my husband on Super Bowl Sunday when he has lost the remote control. She’s moving furniture, throwing pillows, she’s sweeping the floor and turning the house upside down until she finds what’s she’s looking for. Massive action.

At first glance, it doesn’t look like the father in the story takes any action at all until he sees his son off in the distance and then he runs to greet him. In actuality, the father in this story is anything but passive. He never stops looking for his son, and then he runs to meet his son on the road. First-century patriarchs did not run anywhere. But this father is willing to humiliate himself because he loves his son so much and he can’t wait to get his arms around his boy. Then the father gives the son more than he even asked for. The boy just wants a place in the bunk house with the servants, instead the father honors him and welcomes him home like the precious child and heir that he is. Massive action.

A final detail these three stories have in common is they all involve a party. When the shepherd, the woman, and the father find what is missing they call their friends and family together to celebrate because “what once was lost, now has been found.”

With each description of a party Jesus moves us closer and closer to the reason he is telling these stories in the first place.

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