I am an avid newspaper reader. Nearly every day I scan the national and metro sections of the Columbus Dispatch. Political articles interest me. I guess everyone likes to watch a train wreck, right? I also force myself to look at the tragic articles, like the reporting on the floods in Louisiana and West Virginia that cost the lives of some and left hundreds, even thousands homeless. Even though, it is a small thing, it seems as though I honor their pain by reading about it.
And I always read the stories of people being exposed. A police officer on a drug task force found to be dealing drugs. The high school teacher in a small town found in relationship with one of her students. The state senator caught drunk driving for the third time. While I am concerned about the victims, I am fascinated by the culprits. What must it be like to be a police officer doing so many good things every day and having this secret? How heavy that must feel. How internally conflicted he must be. What was the path that led them to be so…lost?
On one of my longer runs, I go by this field of sheep. For the most part, the sheep are grazing in clumps. Ten or so here, ten or so there. They look up as one and watch me slowly plod by them. They don’t run. They don’t seem afraid of me. Last week, when I ran by these clumps of lazy sheep, they were near their barn. After that there was nothing but scrub grass behind the quarter mile wired fence. At the end of fence line, there was one lone sheep. She looked up startled, found herself alone, then bolted back to the area by the barn where the other clumps could be found.
This seems one way all of us can get lost, sheep, police officers, teachers, lawyers, athletes, pastors, nurses, doctors, plumbers, landscapers, husbands, wives, high school students. We just nibble our way to lostness. This tasty piece of grass here, that one over there, oh, wow clover, great. And before we know it we are far away from where we should be. We might get lucky and a 200 pound, sweating, slow runner startles us back to our senses. Or, maybe not, and by the time we figure out we are lost, we don’t have any idea how to get back.
These men and women in my morning paper fascinate me because they are like me. Public figures, respected for their title. Like me they are both saint at times and sinner at times. And like me at different times in my life, they have nibbled themselves to lostness. And if they are like me, they wanted to stop moving further down a path, but not seeming to be able to keep from trying that clover over there. And if they are like me, they wanted to head back to how things were before but not being able to see a way back. And if they are like me, they wanted to be found and not lost any longer but being terrified of the consequences of exposure.
Have you ever thought much about that lost sheep far away from the other 99? Maybe, he knows the odds of being found are slim. Jesus asks what shepherd wouldn’t leave his 99 sheep in the wilderness while he searches for that one lost lamb. I think the answer is what shepherd would leave 99 sheep in the wilderness to go looking for one. Maybe in a barn, or under the watchful eye of an assistant shepherd. But risking all 99 for one troublesome lamb? Forget about it. Most of us, too, doubt when we are lost that anyone really cares or will risk anything to save us.
If the lamb is found, my bet is that shepherd is not in a very good mood. Once lost, it is doubtful we will be found, exposed, scooped up by someone who wants to celebrate when they find us. Because that is the other part of the story that Jesus seems to treat as a given. The shepherd throws a party after going to great efforts to find that lamb. No one is throwing a party for the culprits in my Dispatch articles.
If we are found by the world, it could get ugly. It could be harsh. In the
Dispatch this week was the sentencing of a man who drove his truck too fast in the winter through Broad and High with a flat tire, lost control and slammed into a bus, pushing the bus onto the sidewalk where a 58 year old man and 21 year old woman were killed. He could have received probation to five years in jail. The judge gave him the maximum punishment, 13 years, because he saw no sign of remorse or in the man. I wondered how could anyone say they are sorry enough for killing two people so irresponsibly? What could any of us do to make that better?
The world demands remorse and repentance. Too often, this is what the church demands, too, before we can be slung on the shoulders of our God and brought back to the 99. There is nothing wrong with confession and repentance, they just aren’t the point of these stories. These parables from Jesus are about finding what is lost and celebrating. It is not about the lamb coming to her senses, finding her way home, and returning to the 99 sorry she caused any of them to worry about her. It is about being found and the great joy the one who is looking for us has when we are found. The parable ends not with justice but with an unlikely party for the one who nibbled their way to lostness.
Jesus encounters many people in scripture who are lost. Nowhere, does Jesus demand a confession and repentance before he will love them. Most encounters with lost people are like Zacchaeus. Once found by Jesus, Zacchaeus full of joy threw a party. Or Matthew, once found but not before quit his sinful job to follow Jesus. Jesus in scripture is always more concerned about the 99 taking back the lost then the one who was lost proving he is worthy to be taken back.
And finally this is what I think about as I read these stories of public figures being found out. The world is going to demand justice. But what if she were a member of our church and her name was in our paper? Would we reach out to her joyful that we have an opportunity to bring her back into the fold? Would we celebrate her return if she allowed herself to be slung on our backs and carried from her lostness? Or would we be happy just to let her stay out in the wilderness, I mean 99 isn’t bad. I am just not sure.