I believe the kernel of this lesson Jesus wanted to teach is in the first paragraph. As The Message paraphrases, “By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, ‘He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.’ Their grumbling triggered this story.”
Jesus tells the two stories of seeking out the one that was lost both from a male and female perspective. And, as The Reverend Martin Smith noted in the most recent edition of Sojourners, we could water down these stories to become all about seeking out individual lost souls.
And, I could go there very easily. I am in the process of finding our lost campers and finding new girls who could come to Camp Victory next month. I have not helped with this in the past but since Judy Seabert died last month, I have taken on one of her roles-contacting agencies, schools, etc. to find girls who would benefit from attendance at camp. We will search high and low for the girls who have been to camp and it is often difficult to find our campers. Many of them are in populations who move frequently and don’t have access to everyday things we all take for granted. We are determined to find them again. And, when a girl stops coming to camp for whatever reason, we miss her. I know this feeling of searching for someone who is dear to us--who has left the fold. We will go out and beat the bushes--all that we can think of so we can find them again.
I also have been thinking and praying for Sarah and now, Kevin, as they go out into the streets to meet and talk to people who have left the fold and become homeless. Whatever the reason they have left--job loss, painful lives, addictions, violence, or mental illness--or a job that just doesn’t pay enough. So, Sarah and Kevin are taking “in sinners and eating meals with them, treating them like old friends.” It is a ministry we should honor and support however we can. They are sitting down with people and talking about things we all talk about while finding out what the people need to survive.
It is my old line: really seeing people is important. Engaging them in conversation as equals, treating them like old friends is priceless. We can all learn something from chatting with “the other” who is not really the other but a child of God. On the streets of Vancouver the other day, the three of us emptied out our change for a woman--not my normal practice. Later we ran into a grandma with her grandchild in a stroller and she said they, too, had given the young woman money. Then she said, “Everyone is someone’s child.”
And, that is somewhat about the lost and seeking out individuals. We all must admit we believe in karma--we reap what we sow. But Jesus is telling us the opposite. As Father Martin stated, “The best way to take the sting out of the parables is to make them into melodramas about the dealings of God with individual ‘lost souls’. …But the searching action of God that is the motivating energy behind the onset of the kingdom [of God] is politically and socially revolutionary. Human social structures are seldom favorable to acts of total amnesty and debt cancellation.” For instance, most of us were happy for the demise of Osama bin Laden--though, I will say, I offered up a prayer for his soul and the sad life he had lived that he would find peace in the next life. And, Martin goes on, “Granting pardon, making past failings and deficiencies count for nothing, rendering those who have failed equal to those who have achieved, giving the undeserving equal shares with those who have merited their solid places in society--all this usually provokes outrage. To claim that God is a God of jubilee, amnesty, pardon--all this is outrageous enough to get one crucified. The piety of stained glass windows offers no such threat.”
Yes, I will search high and low for a child who has been abused through the inequity of our culture between adults and children. The idea that adults own children and can do whatever they please to them. Any of us are outraged by such behavior and want to do what we can to set it right-as we should. These children are not lost souls, they are throwaways--to someone. Not to me--to me, they are children of God. The humans living on the street are also children of God.
Yet, here is the kicker, if I believe what Jesus said and did--and I do, I have to accept and be glad that the child abusers are also children of God--beloved by God. And, they are also searched out by God to be brought back into the fold. There is the rub: Jesus constantly is reminding us that he came to turn the world upside down--to cancel out karma. In Christ there is a new creation, the old has passed away. The good news is not just for individuals but for the world that needs radical pardon and newness in order to be regenerated. [Martin Smith] The afterlife is not fair--we can all enter in and be loved.