By Colin Neill, NALS MDiv 2020
Two years ago on a youth mission trip with my home congregation, Zion Lutheran Church, a group of teenagers and I spent a week helping a homeowner named David with household tasks. Throughout the week, David was always accompanied by another gentleman who helped direct and assist us in our duties on David’s property. One day while speaking with David off to the side, I asked him if Chris was his roommate. David then informed me that Chris is more or less homeless and that he has no one. Chris helps David by doing work, and David helps Chris by giving him some money—but the two mainly hang out and keep each other company. After this, watching their unique relationship on display became even more of a delight to witness. The two drank coffee together, spread mulch together, power-washed together, laughed together, and even ate meals together. Chris was once lost and homeless, but David sought him out, took him in, accepted him, and gave him a home.
I imagine this type of relationship to be similar to the one Jesus had with the sinners and tax collectors of first-century Palestine. He ate, drank, laughed, and was in fellowship with them, these outcasts of society; these liars, thieves, prostitutes, the mistreated and marginalized, the downcast and distraught, the tired, the weary, and the broken. For Jesus to dine with such individuals communicated to all that he welcomed them regardless of their cultural affiliation and reputation—which was quite the contrast from the Pharisees and scribes, who were so focused on maintaining proper social and religious boundaries that they thought associating with this multitude of misfits would leave them morally unclean and utterly defiled in the sight of God. They thought righteousness demanded such separation from these people and were thus appalled at the sight of Jesus dining with this group.
Jesus, knowing the very thoughts of the Pharisees and scribes, responds with parables directed at the posture of their hearts. What shepherd leaves the entire flock to seek out one lost, agitated, and disoriented sheep with the sole mission of returning it home? What Pharisee leaves the righteous to seek out the dirty, the downcast, and downtrodden?
Or what woman, losing one of her 10 silver coins, doesn’t relentlessly search her entire house until she finds it, communicating the immense value that each coin holds in her eyes. What scribe immensely values the lost, the lonely, and the loathsome?
In these parables, the recovered sheep doesn’t just get thrown back into the pen, and the returned coin doesn’t just get tossed into the drawer. Rather, there is a cause for celebration. Both the shepherd and the woman gathered their family and friends together, rejoicing in the fact that what they had once lost was now found.
But today all are not found, many are still lost, and like the Shepherd and the woman’s mission, the search continues. What Christian among us, seeing many who are trapped in sin, will not leave the comfort of the church walls and go after those who are lost? Which of us will seek them diligently until they are found?
We often isolate ourselves from the messiness of this world in order to maintain our sense of security. We invest our money rather than provide for the poor. We shut our doors instead of extending our arms. We build walls rather than cross borders. We are often drawn into aimless wandering through the ways of this world, following its false treasures and deferring to the deceits and desires of our own hearts. How did we get here? Which way do we go? Where are we?
We are lost. And just like the sinners and tax collectors, we are prone to wander. Just like the Pharisees and scribes, we have erred and strayed from God’s ways. We have gone missing, we are desperate, and we need to be rescued. But who will find us? Who will come to our aid? Who will carry us home?
The Good Shepherd. He seeks out the lost, pursues the missing, and comes to our aid. He will find us and carry us home on his shoulders, the same shoulders that carried the cross up to Calvary. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd who came into this world to save sinners, and in his arms, he gathers us all back into the fold, into the house of God where there will be immense joy and cause for celebration. Because repentance isn’t just turning away from sin, it is being found by the One who obtained victory over it. It is being claimed by the One who is eternal and embraced by the One who rules over all.
And so Christ says to us, “Welcome home, son. Welcome home, daughter. You were once lost, but now you are found.” AMEN.