Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
The parable of the lost sheep answered Jesus’s critics. He stopped to teach and Luke reports that tax collectors and “sinners” gathered to hear Him. Much like now, tax collectors were despised in Jesus’s day. Their unpopularity went beyond general disdain, however. As local agents of Caesar and willing parties to the Roman occupation, they were hated as traitors and low lives—in other words, the wrong people to be seen with. “Sinners” were no better. The New International Version frames Luke’s original word with quotes to underscore its specific meaning. They had been excommunicated from the temple and were viewed as unredeemable pariahs, the worst of the worst.
Wherever Jesus went, He drew these sorts of people, never expressing the least discomfort in their company. This drove the religious right crazy. On this occasion, before He even began, the Pharisees and legalists complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus could have ignored their mutters to teach those who really wanted to listen. After all, the holier-than-thou types nagging Him had also scandalized many in His audience; their opinion held little or no weight with the outcasts. Still, Jesus set His message aside to address His detractors. It was more urgent for Him to straighten them out than speak to the sinners. Interesting.
Why Heaven Rejoices
No doubt by design, the critics put Jesus in an awkward spot. Defending Himself would require defending the crowd—which would set fire to a wasps’ nest of theological debate—or trick Him into condemning them. From where the Pharisees sat, it was a win-win. But Jesus took a sharp turn that left them speechless and gave the world one of His most powerful parables. Having set the story up, with the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to recover the lost one, He said that after it was found, the shepherd invites his neighbors to celebrate with him. “In the same way,” Jesus told them, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Being educated men, the Pharisees most likely understood the story’s subtext, which must have bruising to hear. Doing what’s right makes us happy; it keeps us safe, fed, and free of worry. On the other hand, restoring us to our rightful place in His love is what makes God happy and why heaven rejoices.
You’re the One
You’re why Christ came to Earth—He was looking for you. You’re the one He sought to reclaim to His care. You set off shouts of joy when you returned to the fold. You belong to Him. You’re entitled to live and grow in His pasture, just like any other sheep. You’re no less worthy of His attention and protection than anyone else. You’re blessed with the same opportunity to follow where He leads. He numbers you among His prize possessions and without you, His flock is incomplete. You’re the one. I’m the one. We’re the one. He welcomes all of us to gather around Him, regardless of how we’re viewed by others in His fold. Finding each of us brings Him great happiness. Heaven rejoices. So should we.
Anonymous (ca 1490): Jesus and the Pharisees
(Tomorrow: Seventy X Seven)
Postscript: Observances and Awards
Today marks a milestone for Straight-Friendly—100 posts. When I started, I had no expectation of what it would require, or any idea how fulfilling it would be. I probably check the Straight-Friendly traffic a half-dozen times a day to see who’s dropped by. Yesterday, we topped 1,000 visits, which may seem insignificant to many of you established bloggers, but it’s astounding to me. This could never have happened so soon without the endorsements and links many of you have seeded around the Internet. I'm so grateful for all you've done and pray God blesses all of you above your highest hopes.
You’ve taught me much about how this blogosphere thing works. (I still don’t know how to italicize quotes and phrases in my comment responses, though…) The Internet really is a net, a woven-together community of vibrant minds and spirits promoting each other’s causes and endeavors.
Not long ago, I experienced this when Missy, of Missy’s Big Fish Stories, listed Straight-Friendly among her five choices for the Brillante Weblog Award. The way this award works is that each blogger who receives it passes it along to five of his/her favorites. There are no rules or criteria. Missy’s kindness overwhelmed me; but it also triggered a conundrum: whom do I pass my five awards on to? Many of my first choices already got the award and I imagined others I wanted to honor would have theirs soon. Then there was the issue of choosing some at the expense of others. That would never do.
So, to celebrate 100 posts and 1,000 visitors, I’ve come up with a plan—not as great as I’d like, but one that helps approach this in a manageable way. I’m opting to limit my “regular” choices to two, use another two to highlight new blogs I recently discovered, and send the fifth to an old favorite that reflects gay secular sensibilities. Here goes:
Sherry’s gentle sensibility and probing inquiries into Scripture are always inspiring and fascinating, making me wish I had more time to spend relishing everything she offers.
Fred’s drive and passion are simply magnificent. I never fail to find something hot there, which usually fires me up to write an overlong comment that I’m sure tries his patience. (I do this on Sherry’s blog, too.)
This blog is new to me, written by an ordained (straight) Independent Catholic priest, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker. His coverage of the theological and political challenges facing the GLBT community is superb, clear, and unapologetically frank.
The second newbie on the list, this could be the twin brother of Straight-Friendly. Written by Spirit & Flesh, an anonymous gay Lutheran pastor, it also features devotional and personal reflections, and mirrors many of the ideas expressed here. S&F is someone you should know.
Donnie has been at this for over three years now and it’s been a consistent joy—sassy, sarcastic, and just edgy enough to appreciate the thoughtful contrast of the occasional serious post. It’s definitely a PG-13 kind of spot, spiked with occasional profanity and discreet homoerotic images (no nudity). But what I love most is “Monday Mug Shots,” a devilish combo of handsome guys who’ve run afoul of the law and a few scofflaws who've plainly run afoul of common sense, fashion, taste, or (to quote Ms. Palin) "all of the above." FLM won't be for all of us, but I couldn’t resist including it.