December 2, 2011
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:4-7
And what, you may be wondering about the title, does the Occupy movement have to do with the national parks?
Bear with me. On Thursday, a group of protestors from Occupy Washington, joined by a group from Occupy Wall Street that had walked from New York, began a march from D.C.’s Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial to King’s gravesite in Atlanta. As I mentioned in a previous post, the memorial is on the National Mall, which is part of the National Park Service (NPS). King’s grave is located at The King Center, which is operated in partnership with NPS’s King National Historic Site.
The march is to mark the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. This led to the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, a watershed event during the push for civil rights that some compare to the Occupy movement (an Associated Press article notes that King’s children have said their father was planning a poor people’s campaign and occupation before he was assassinated in 1968). Rosa Parks’ act is commemorated at many civil rights historical locales in the NPS.
This piece of news got me thinking about the Occupy slogan, “We Are the 99%,” and the Biblical passage that mentions that percentage. Okay, so the verse I quoted at the beginning doesn’t actually say “99%,” but Jesus is talking about leaving 99 out of 100 sheep to look for the one that was lost, which is the same as saying 99% and 1%, right?
Luke 15 became a favorite of mine years ago when I taught children at church and at a summer program at my house. I used a lesson put out by Child Evangelism Fellowship entitled “Three Lost Things,” based on the trio of missing things mentioned in the chapter’s parables—a sheep, a coin and finally, and perhaps most well known, a son (aka, the Prodigal Son). Each of them is lost, then found, and then there’s a party! “Rejoice with me,” the shepherd and the woman who misplaced her coin say to their friends and neighbors (vv. 6, 9). Music, dancing, a special feast, and general merriment accompany the son’s return (vv. 22-25). It’s a great lesson to teach because everyone, even kids, understands losing and finding, and everyone loves a party.
The word “lost” or “loses” is mentioned seven times in Luke chapter 15, using a strong Greek verb emphasizing possessiveness, indicating these were not trivial or inconsequential things that had gone missing. The shepherd valued each sheep, the woman treasured her coin, and the son—well, his father saw him coming “while he was still a long way off” (v. 20), so he must have been on the watch for his dissolute but precious boy.
As I’ve mentioned before—and you might already know—a parable is a story about everyday life that illustrates spiritual truth. The stories here are about the incredible worth of one—one sheep, one coin, one son. The truth they present also is about the incredible worth of one—you. And me. And every single person who’s ever existed, is now living, or is yet to be born.
Kind of hard to wrap your mind around the concept that we are all individually prized like that, isn’t it? That God is so interested in us. As King David put it, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:7).
And because God is so engaged—or, in another way of putting it, preoccupied—with us, He’s always looking for us. Isn’t that something, that the God of the universe should put Himself out for each one of us? The reason He came as God in the flesh, Jesus declared of Himself, was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
But what about those other sheep, you might be wondering, those 99% who stayed put, who the shepherd left behind to look for the drifter? Why leave all the others to go look for one measly straggler? Isn’t 99% in the hand worth 1% in the bush, so to speak? Why all the fuss over the “bad” sheep?
And what about the upstanding older son who did what was right, while his idiot younger brother went buck wild? Why should the “bad” kid get all the attention? Shouldn’t Mr. Responsible be lauded for his good behavior? He certainly thought so: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” (vv. 28-30). Talk about favoritism!
Does God, like the Occupy movement says of corporations and the government, care only about the 1%, and not the 99%?
Each night, a shepherd counts heads. If one’s missing, he must hunt for it—sheep, unlike other animals, can’t find their way back on their own. But a good shepherd wouldn’t leave the others vulnerable; that would have been a given in the story. Of course he would secured them before he searched for the laggard.
The father of the parable, the embodiment of a loving God, answers his angry offspring with a gentle reminder: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours” (vs. 31). It seems one can be a little lost even within the safety and security of the fold, forgetting that what is needed is there for the asking.
This Christmas season, whether you’re a 99% stayer or a 1% strayer, reflect on how much God loves you. He’s written it over and over again in His Word, and demonstrated it by sending His Son when you and I didn’t even deserve it (Romans 5:8). Just like the father sent his servants scurrying to prepare a feast for the admittedly unworthy prodigal (v. 21).
Whether you’ve allowed God to find you, or whether you’re still out there wandering around, mistakenly believing you can find your own way to Him, remember that He’s always on the lookout for you. He’s longing to show you grace, compassion and abundant forgiveness (Isaiah 30:18, 55:7), no matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been.
“We had to celebrate and be glad,” the father explains to his older son, “because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found” (v. 32).
What a great reason to party!
Of that, I’m 100% sure.
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