Jesus tells us two parables saying, Look, some things are very important to God and he shows us in two ways: the lost coin and the lost sheep. The coin we understand, I think: If I only have 100 pennies and one is missing then I need to find the other. It’s gone: I can’t go buy a cup of coffee being one penny short. I won’t be able to exchange it for a paper $1 bill, because who would give me a dollar for ninety-nine pennies? Tearing up the house means no more bother than having to put it together again. The sheep, though, seem different: because leaving the ninety-nine alone, unguarded “in the desert” means that they could wander off as well, no? And, after all, properly tended the sheep will make more – that’s what animals do. Just wait, next year there will be more. Pennies don’t breed. So, searching for a penny seems safe, as it were whilst the sheep business is markedly risky.
Jesus is hanging out with sinners again and eating with them. As in an episode of Southpark, the crowd stands around and “Rabbles” although in the Bible everyone “murmurs”. Murmur! Murmur! Murmur! Murmur!
He is accused of “receiving” sinners. The Greek verb used (προσδέχομαι) implies reciprocity: it’s a mutual hugfest, really. They are taking him in and he is welcoming them. It’s a synergistic dance.Yet remember: God is always the leader in the dance. They are drawn to him, they are welcomed when they get there.
So it is with us, here and now, of course. Some sinners in the world are like the Lost Coin: they’re just around the corner, maybe still in the Church, just not quite connected. It’s like they’re on the inside. There’s a cleaning under the bed and a finding of the little sparkles among all the dust bunnies. The Lapsed come home at Christmas, you know.
Some, however, are more like the lost lamb: we’ve gone so very far away that God has to go to extraordinary lengths to bring them home. But so far he will go. And happily. He may have to wander far in the wilderness; there are pits and peaks, valleys and rivers to navigate. The sheep are there, but it’s harder to find them all, surrounded by their natural beauty and the glories of the world. These sheep left the church a long time ago, or were never inside at all. Some of these went astray from the very beginning: they were never even part of the House of the Israel of God. They are surrounded and engulfed by the false beauties and deluded by the illicit half-lights of the world. Yet God only made one humanity: he never intended a division, only an icon. As the Fathers say: there is only one Human Nature. Many persons share in the human nature – including, by virtue of the Incarnation, God the Son – but the nature itself, is one. And that is how far God has gone to get us: into this messy world and beyond, into Hell itself.
In Philippians Paul says, having listed his right to claim authority among his own people (elsewhere adding to this list that he was a student of St Gamaliel), he says, “All the things I have gained I count as loss for Christ.” Meaning they were wasted time, if I had known Jesus 30 years ago. And he goes further and says in fact, “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung that I may gain Christ.” Paul made his own finding rather more like the sheep than the coin for he had even engaged in persecuting the Church. Fallen into a pit, God had to appear to him and say, “look, here’s the way out…” That’s how far God will go. And further.
Will you come home? Will you count the wilderness or the dusty floor to be lost energy and wasted time? Will you count it all to be dung so that you can come home, finally?