Today’s Gospel from St. Luke is a beautiful parable of God’s love and forgiveness. In response to the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes that he welcomes sinners and eats with them, Jesus asks, “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” And when he finds it, Jesus says, there will be great rejoicing among the man and his friends and neighbors that he has found the lost sheep.
Now, the reality is that no shepherd in his right mind would do as Jesus suggests. No shephard is going to risk the safety of ninety-nine sheep by leaving them alone to go off and look for one missing sheep. Jesus knew this and he knew his audience would know it as well.
As he so often does, Jesus turns expectations on their head. While the shepherd would easily accept the loss of one to ensure the safety of the ninety-nine, for God each and every one of us is precious. God can’t stand to lose even one, no matter how many others are saved. And so when someone who has been lost returns to the fold, says Jesus, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”
I think we all have times when we feel a little down about ourselves, when we wonder, could God really want me? There are so many others more worthy…more holy…less trouble, etc. (The particulars of our laments may vary, but the thrust is the same.) For those times, this is a wonderful parable to remember. No many how many others stand by God’s side, God wants us there as well. God’s rejoicing is not complete without each and every one of us.