Broken relationships. We all have them. The church is no exception. How do we respond to people who have wandered out of our lives or out of the church. The easiest solution is to break our ties. To live with someone day after day who is at odds with right behavior and far from God is beyond draining. It costs us emotionally and physically. We can become weary of the battle and sometimes, for our own survival, we cut them out of our lives. Sometimes we call it tough love, but I think it is often simply self-preservation. Question: Where would each of us be if Jesus attitude had been one of self-preservation?
We sometimes write certain people off as unreachable or not worth our time. I would argue those are the very people God came to save. God sees each one as precious and valuable. Do we have that same insight?
Jesus told the Pharisees a parable in Luke 15:1-7.
“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (NASB)
Jesus was putting the religious leaders in the middle of the story. They were the shepherd. Those of us with prodigal children can relate strongly to this scenario. They were under our care when they got lost. Some stay lost a few weeks or months. Some stay lost for years. Some never return. As parents we pray and eventually leave them in God’s good hands knowing that only God can bring them home.
When the opportunities do arise for reconciliation this parable shows us what that would look like. Kenneth E. Bailey in his book “Poet and Peasant” states that “A lost sheep will lie down helplessly and refuse to budge.” The shepherd who finds the sheep in this “given up” condition rejoices even though he knows the road ahead will be difficult and painful for both of them. The shepherd must lift the limp sheep onto his shoulders and carry it many miles back to the village. It is a costly journey. The one who pays the highest price is the shepherd. He will get battered and sore on the painful journey back, but for the sake of the lost sheep, who God loves, he will shoulder the burden. As he finally stumbles back home he gathers the village together to share in his joy that the precious sheep is back.
I don’t have all the answers as I see a need for this scenario to be played out, but I know a great God who can do things I have no power to do. He can help us find those lost sheep in our lives. He can help us carry the lost one back home no matter how far they have wandered. He can bring restoration and reconciliation where we thought it was impossible. More than likely it won’t be instantaneous. Restoration is messy and costly for everyone involved. Especially for the shepherd.
I am confident God will work in our own hearts as well. Softening them where they need to be softened. Bringing repentance where there needs to be repentance. Giving wisdom so we can be as tough or as kind as the situation calls for. Hopefully rooting out every sliver of pride in our own heart…because in reality we have all been as lost as those wandering in the wilderness. If we somehow think we are better than those who have gotten themselves in such a state we are sadly mistaken. (Does the story of Jonah ring a bell?)
“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”(Luke 19:10 NASB)
“It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 NASB)
(Recommended reading – “The Cross and the Prodigal” by Kenneth E. Bailey)