The Reckless and Foolish Search
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
I had a family dog who died recently. He was a little shih tzu-pug mix named PJ. He attended some of our outdoor services here at St. Matthew. In his younger years he had a lot of energy and loved to run and explore, occasionally getting himself lost. He was pretty good about staying in the yard if you were paying attention to him. But if you took your eyes off him, he’d wander into the woods. Whenever my dad was working outside, he’d let PJ roam around the yard, and fairly often he’d wander off.
I remember one time he was gone for hours. We called the neighbors. We drove around. We tried everything. And when we finally found him, we were overjoyed. PJ was happy enough to see us, but he was just as happy to roam around the woods. He didn’t understand the joy we had in finding him because he was a dog and didn’t understand what his getting lost might mean. He was unaware of the danger of coyotes and foxes at night, unaware of the cars that might hit him if he crossed the street at the wrong time, unaware he might not find his way home, and unaware of how much joy finding him gave us.
I think of that time when I read today’s parables. The clueless sheep in the parable had no idea what it was doing. Just like my dog didn’t realize he was making us anxious and worried because he ran away, the sheep probably didn’t even realize it was lost. And a coin is an inanimate object, completely oblivious about its state of being lost.
Jesus chose these examples for good reason. Jesus is emphasizing that the action here is God’s action. God searches. God finds. God rejoices. The sheep and the coin are oblivious about how important it is that they be found. Coins and sheep don’t understand what’s going on. Likewise, the sinners Jesus is saving can’t understand, can’t grasp the amazing thing God is doing for them and in them. Being found by God is about being brought into the fold, about being acted upon by God, rather than doing something of your own choosing. Being found by God is not reaching some sort of moral bar so that God believes you can turn your life around. Being found by God is not about anything you do at all. God does the searching. God does the finding. God does the reconciling.
In these parables Jesus is turning the whole worldview of repentance on its head. Being reconciled to God is not something humans initiate—in fact a person can’t initiate it—it’s something God initiates and something God brings to completion. It’s out of our hands, and honestly that is truly Good News! We don’t need to earn God’s love and forgiveness. We don’t need to achieve any kind of moral righteousness. We don’t need to do any searching ourselves. God searches, God finds, God rejoices in finding us.
Today’s parables are prefaced with the Pharisees and scribes grumbling about Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners. This should tell us something. You see, they probably would’ve liked Jesus a whole lot if he had gotten all those sinners to turn their lives around and to start following the Torah and living up to the standards of their religion. But as theologian John Caputo points out, this was apparently not the case. Instead, Jesus seemed to break the ice by forgiving them first, rather than leading with trying to convince them to change.
Caputo explains, “Repentance and forgiveness were staples of Jewish theology, and had Jesus been able to turn the tax collectors and thieves around, to effect a change of heart in them and bring them back into the fold, he would have been hailed as a national hero. What then—if anything—was Jesus saying about forgiveness to give such offense? Might it have concerned the time of forgiveness? Might it be that Jesus offered forgiveness to sinners who were still sinning and this in advance of their having repented?” (Caputo, pg. 219-220).
That kind of forgiveness seems completely reckless on Jesus’ part. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s reckless and foolish. But honestly, I think that’s the whole point. In these parables the shepherd is reckless and foolish in leaving the 99 sheep to find the one that was lost. And the woman was reckless and foolish in wasting her day searching for one measly lost coin. God is reckless and foolish by the world’s standards when it comes to who God searches for and finds, and loves and accepts. God is reckless and foolish by focusing on all those who’ve wandered off. God is reckless and foolish in searching for those who don’t deserve it, appreciate it, or even notice it.
But Jesus taught is that God’s greatest joy is in finding those people. Not in watching the morally superior ones. Not in admiring the most righteous ones. Not in observing the ones who obey the law. Not in being with the ones who meditate every day and read scripture every morning and take seriously the spiritual journey like a lot of us do. No, God knows those people are already in the fold. So God’s greatest joy is in finding the lost ones. Bringing that lost sheep back into the fold. Finding that lost coin. Reaching that person everyone thought was too far gone to be helped. Touching the life of someone who felt abandoned by God. Being present to the person lost in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.
God is of course pleased at our desire to grow up spiritually and act morally and do good things for those in need. That’s the life God wishes for all of us to have. But God is even more happy about finding the lost ones. About establishing a relationship with someone who had no relationship with God before. And God is so eager to establish a relationship with us that God doesn’t make any prerequisites. God doesn’t require we become pure first. God doesn’t require we become holy first. God doesn’t require we apologize for our lostness first. God just rejoices about finding us. About having a relationship with us. About being able to be there for us. About being able to love us and accept us and be with us.
The world needs this good news. The world needs to know how much God loves us all. A world still shaken up by a global pandemic. A world where war continues to plague countries. A world where terrorists attack with airplanes and mass murderers shoot up schools. Twenty-one years ago our country was shocked by the September 11th terrorist attacks. The grief, sadness, and trauma are still experienced to this day. And it is in such sadness, such suffering, such pain and grief and trauma, that we can get lost. And it is precisely in that lostness that God so eagerly searches for us. God enters in, inviting us into relationship and offering us peace. Not to magically take all the pain away, but to bear it with us. To be with us in the midst of all of our suffering. Christ, who endured the cross for our sake, is with us in the middle of all the pain and suffering of this world.
God comes to us in Jesus Christ and finds us in our lostness. God comes to us in the promises of scripture. God comes to us in the water of Baptism and the in bread and wine of Holy Communion. God comes to us in the Holy Spirit’s presence in our hearts. God is with us in our suffering. God searches for us in our lostness. God drops everything for us. God rejoices in finding us, healing us, and redeeming us. Thanks be to God for the reckless and foolish way God searches for us, finds us, and rejoices in us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 9/11/2022