Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he 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. Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost coin are two stories that reveal the heart of God, our Father. It is a suffering heart. It is a searching heart. And it is a celebrating heart. By understanding God's heart, we can learn how to make our heart like his because this is how we show ourselves to be his children. So let us take each in turn.
The suffering heart can be hard to understand unless one has experienced a similar pain of loss. As a very young man, I remember how I walked out of home one day in a fit of rage after an argument with my father. I hadn't gone very far when my anger began to subside, and with reason returning, I wondered what to do next. I didn't really have anywhere to go, and my pride didn't let me return home, so I sat down at a bus stand feeling very low—and more than a little anxious—when I saw my dad turning the corner on his Lambretta. He had come looking for me, and I couldn't miss the relief in his eyes when he saw me. (I tried to hide the relief in my own.)
I never really gave much thought to how he must have felt at the time until I became a father and went through a similar situation with my own son. It gave me a tremendous sense of empathy, not only with my earthly father but also with my heavenly Father, and I can only imagine how much his heart aches as he sees child after child going away from him. But he doesn't just let them go. He searches for them as the shepherd searches for the lost sheep, and the woman keeps searching for the lost coin. And like how my father came searching for me.
Both these stories have happy endings. What is lost is found. And then there is a celebration. Have you ever been at the stadium to watch the final of a World Cup or World Series event (or watched it on TV)? The jubilation at the end is something to behold! It is not just the winning team that rejoices though, it is also their supporters, and it is impossible not to get caught in the general sense of euphoria even if you are just a spectator.
It might be hard to picture God jumping up and down in delight along with all the angels in heaven, but I wouldn't be surprised if that is what happens. I imagine that's how the early church used to rejoice every time somebody was saved because it was not just a big deal; it was a huge deal that demanded celebration! We will begin to celebrate like this once we start to bring our brothers and sisters home. But this will happen only when we begin to feel sorrow for them as our Father does and go looking for them so we can bring them home.
I hope that we will do a lot of celebrating in the days to come.