Today I gained a fresh understanding of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Here’s the original as in Luke 15v1-7 (NLT):
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people – even eating with them! So Jesus used this illustration:“If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived, you would call together your friends and neighbours to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found. In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”
Here’s what I realised on my walk to school this morning whilst wondering how our class trip to the Science Museum via bus and tube would turn out:
Rioters, Michael Gove* and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Daily Mail readers and politicians complain that he was associating with such despicable people – even going to Nandos with them!** So Jesus used this illustration:“If you were taking thirty 7 year-olds across London on the tube, and one of them got lost in the crowd of impatient and inconsiderate commuters, wouldn’t you leave the other twenty-nine (with a responsible adult of course) to go search for the lost child until you found it? And then you would joyfully return to the rest of the group (after you’d both thrown up and cried with sheer relief). When you arrived home, you would invite your friends to the pub to rejoice with you because the lost child was found (and you got to keep your job). In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over twenty-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away!"
Whenever I’ve read this before I failed to grasp the magnitude of what Jesus was saying – that heaven rejoices over the One who returns.
But today I realised that until the lost sheep was found the shepherd would have been frantic. Would I have been content to keep the other twenty-nine and abandon the lost one? If one of the kids had got lost the only thing that would have stopped me from a full-scale panic would have been the knowledge that:
A. It wouldn’t have been helpful to anyone (I am inherently sensible[usually] – panic is never a good option).
B. We then would have had one lost child and 29 crying children.
If one of the kids had got lost I would have looked on every platform, behind every group of teenage Spanish language school students and under every bench until that child was found. I would have run up and down escalators searching for the lost child and calling their name until I could no longer speak. I would have done this not only because I want to keep my job, but also because I would hate for the lost child to be alone and scared. I would hate for them to not know where there were or who to ask for help. I would hate for them to never return home.
Would I have been rejoicing when the child was found? Fo' sure! Not only would I (hopefully) be able to keep my job but the lost child could return home! To a place where they are known and loved. To a place where their absence would always be felt had they not come back. I would have told all my friends about this potentially heart (and career) breaking event. I would I have summoned them to come and join me in celebrating. I would have tweeted about the return of the lost child, updated my facebook status and instagramed a picture of my celebratory drink.
In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than ninety-nine others who were righteous and never strayed.
Never doubt how important you are to God.
*Can you tell I work in a school? But if Gove listened to the teaching of Jesus then our education reforms would be in a much better state #justsayin.
**Would Jesus have even eaten at Nandos though?