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.