Field Trips. I think that most people outside the world of education think field trips are nothing but fun and games. They don’t realize the planning that must go into a field trip so that the field trip meets educational objectives. They don’t realize all the paperwork that must be done to arrange the location, the buses, get chaperones, take care of feeding the kids, etc. Even with all that, the trips can be great fun. Except every teacher has this one worry: the kid who wanders off. Teachers count and recount kids getting on the bus, while they’re on the bus, getting off the bus, at the location, getting back on the bus, and then on the bus again. There are some things for which a grade of 99% is not good enough. Imagine telling the principal of the school, “We did pretty good today. I only left one student behind so I returned 99% of the kids.” That doesn’t fly. Even as a joke. Principals do not think that line is funny.
The Pharisees had issues with Jesus. He wasn’t part of their power structure. He made them look like fools. They wanted to trick Him and make Him lose His following. Who was it that followed Him? Tax Collectors and Sinners, that’s who! Jesus didn’t consort with the right people and they made sure that He knew that they knew that He was doing that. And so Jesus tells them a parable about a shepherd looking for his lost sheep. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)
The Pharisees misunderstood God. They knew that God loved righteousness behavior. They believed, though, that God couldn’t love anyone else other than a Pharisee, because they couldn’t be righteous. And, if someone wasn’t righteous, they, like the Gentiles, were fit for nothing more than fuel to feed the fires of hell. It is to these people that Jesus tells a parable, hoping to show them the love of God. It’s amazing that even in the midst of all the Pharisees tried to do to Jesus that He gave them opportunities for redemption. Yet they refused to heed the words of Jesus. What an amazing picture of love Jesus gave them, too. A shepherd brought back 99 out of 100 sheep. It would have been easy to be satisfied with that. Perhaps the sheep had wondered away. Perhaps it had lost a battle with a wolf, or a lion, or a snake. Going after it could be dangerous, especially if predators were feeding upon it. The shepherd never hesitated as he searched for and found his lost sheep. This was truly a cause for celebration!
The point that was not lost on the Pharisees. They recognized that Jesus was showing them a picture of God that they didn’t like; a God who would search out those who had strayed away and be willing to sacrifice His own life to bring them back into His family. That is the God we follow. He did give up His life on the cross so that anyone could accept His forgiveness and grace. It’s easy to forget that anyone issue and start sliding into the ways of the Pharisees. We can pick out specific sins that are worse than others, and believe that God couldn’t love people like that. Usually when we do that, the sins we pick out are different from the ones we are involved with. Isn’t it amazing how God is always willing to forgive the sins that we are comfortable with, but not so willing to forgive the sins we aren’t comfortable with? Or is it, perhaps, that when it comes to forgiveness, we have made God in our own image? In the parable Jesus told, we don’t know if the sheep was a victim of circumstances or if it wasn’t present because of bad choices. What we know is that the shepherd risked his life to find it. Now, go searching for others.
Oh Lord, it’s easy to see why You forgive my sins. They aren’t so bad, right? Or maybe, I’m just used to them. Help me to see my own sin as You see it. Help me to abhor my own sin. Then help me to see the sins of others as You see them and show them the same mercy and grace You do.