Luke 15:1-10 (NRSV)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
“It’s not lost-lost… I just don’t know where it is right now.”
As a recovering chronic loser, this is a sentence I have heard myself utter more than once. There are the things that are lost, forever-ever, that will not be found. Then, there are those that you know are Somewhere, but that Somewhere is, at present, a mystery. I was struck by the sense of the second being true in this passage. In both stories, the return to the place of belonging is framed as something that is definite –
Until he finds it. Until she finds it.
When he finds it. When she finds it.
There is no if, the outcome has been fixed in a concrete hope, there is just a process to get to it.
The probability of finding something that is Somewhere is influenced by two criteria; the value that the person ascribes to the object, and the willingness to put aside all other tasks, to be single-minded in finding what is missing. If you lose one of your Penneys hoop earrings in a field at Electric Picnic, then you’re probably best to let it rest in peace. Its value is less than the hassle of looking for them. This is the opposite of how the shepherd and the woman in these stories viewed what they were missing . They considered their sheep and their coin worth dropping everything to look for.
I saw such a search party in action recently. The morning of a big wedding planning day, my friend managed to misplace her engagement ring. A half-day hunt of two houses an hour’s drive apart ensued with and a sitting room torn apart. Everything else on the agenda for the day was put aside.
This search was carried out with the help of a team of friends, sisters and mothers; a Bride Tribe born for such a time as this, driven by love, not [just] of sparkly things, but the people it was precious to, and what it represented for them. If it was precious to them, then it was precious to us. It is in such love that you will stick your hand in a bin for someone, down the back of a toilet, or down into the couch of a student house; going where no man had gone before, or at least not in far, far too long. We were all thinking of the woman in this story and her silver coins that day. These coins could have been her dowry, sometimes worn decoratively, or her family savings, something most precious.
I was struck by the fierce hope embodied by these women, both in the Biblical story, and those in a whirl of dust around me, as they were diligently seeking; continuing to believe that what was lost was not where it could not be found.
And when a hand reached, and unearthed, a shiny, glittery, precious thing, and the call went out that it had been found, we rejoiced.
So it was for the shepherd, and the woman in these stories. Nothing was more important to them in that moment than finding what had been lost. Nothing was more precious than what had been separated from them, and nothing was more worth rejoicing over than its restoration.
We will be, and have been, at different times, both the ones searching, and the ones that the hills are being scanned for. We will find ourselves in dusty corners, in the dark, not seeing ourselves as something sparkly and precious, as worth lighting a lamp to comb the house for. These are moments of separation from our sense of self, and our sense of God, as a result of the things that we have done, or failed to do, or events that can erode our memory of where we belong.
These stories in Luke 15, are such a reminder to me, and a timely one, that in the Kingdom of God, nothing is lost-lost. Our essential ‘findability’ is based not on a cheery optimism, but some deep hope. Why? Because it is based not on our estimation of our capacity to act, but on something that is outside of ourselves and that comes from God: his vision for our reconciled future. Even in the dust that clings or the places where the light cannot reach. Even in the shadow of the mountain, when the fog has descended, and covered the path home. Even when that hope is at a deficit, we are never where we cannot be found. That person that you love, that is suffering, from head pains, from heart pains. They never were, nor will be, where they cannot be found by the God that calls them precious, who says they are His. He has invited us to be part of their search party.
When we are not optimistic for ourselves, there is someone who is hopeful for us. There are 99 waiting. With a single-mindedness, the Shepherd searches. His eyes scanning the fields, the horizon, the shadow places, for you, for what is most valuable to him, to lay you on his shoulders, to take you from hidden corners to open country; to carry you home.
And then, we will rejoice
And then, we will rejoice.
Emily is currently working part-time as a youth worker in Kilkenny, having just completed her Masters in Community and Youth Work. She is passionate about tag rugby, proper conversations, dancing, poetry, public transport as a lifestyle choice and seeing people and ideas come together.