“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” Luke 15:4
In Luke 15, the religious leaders were upset with Jesus. Some people who were messed up were drawing near to hear Jesus’ instruction about the Kingdom of God, and the leaders did not appreciate it. They complained and grumbled that this was inappropriate, unseemly, and over the line. They thought Jesus ought to avoid hanging with people like this.
A Different Ethic
The religious leaders had a point. The “messed up” people were, after all, tax collectors and sinners. Both categories of people were detestable for good reason. Tax collectors were anathema because they were responsible for underwriting the Roman government that was occupying the land God had given to his people. They were also known for collecting more tax than they needed to supplement their own wallet. Then there were the sinners who were, well . . . sinful. The Pharisees and scribes carefully cultivated a reputation for obedience. What a scandal for Jesus to associate with people in open rebellion to God’s way of doing things!
Jesus does not defend the sinfulness of sinners. Neither does he justify the financial malfeasance of the tax collectors. He does, however, defend spending time with such people by reframing the thinking of the Pharisees. He points the Jewish leaders in the direction of a different ethic.
The Heart of God
He does this by telling a story about a lost sheep, and a lost coin. In each story the respective item gets lost, thus necessitating a close and thorough search. Jesus poses two penetrating questions: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4). “What woman, having ten silver coins, if she loess one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”(Luke 15:8).
His questions point out the obvious. Of course you go looking for the lost sheep! Naturally you initiate a search for the missing coin! Any reasonable person knows that it is wisest and best to exert all necessary effort on the ones that are missing, and in need help rather than the ones that are fine, and intact. Such obvious reasoning is an indictment against the Pharisees. Their obsession with obedience has led them to lose sight of the heart of God. They were busy feeling cozy in their righteous little group, and indicting those on the outside when they should have been moving toward hurting, sinful, and troubled people with God’s love.
A Task Avoided
This is a correction that we all need from time to time. Anybody who has been a Christian for more than a few months knows how comforting it is to be with those who are in our little Christian club who get it. There are few things as comforting as sitting with people who are like us, not having to worry about people who disagree with us or have a bunch of problems.
One of the ways Christians do this is by avoiding the counseling task. The vast majority of Christians I know who avoid counseling do not disregard it because they don’t think the Bible has answers for counseling problems. They avoid it because they don’t want the hassle. It is too hard to sit with someone with a difficult and complicated problem. It is too challenging to try and untangle the Gordian knot of sin in the life of an habitual offender. It is much more comfortable to sit with folks who are like us—those we know, like, trust, and identify with—and talk about all those other people with problems, and how glad we are not to be like that.
We deserve the indictment the Pharisees got. When the Pharisees complain that Jesus consorts with the unrighteous, he corrects them that the life of a true follower of God isn’t the life of sitting in judgment of troubled people. It is, rather, the life of rescuing such persons. Whenever we run away from people with problems instead of toward them we demonstrate a flaw that Jesus wants us to change. The call on our lives to follow Christ is the call to pursue troubled people.
The Call to Counsel
I’ll bet that coterie of sinners and tax collectors was a pretty messed up lot. I’ll bet there were adulterers, liars, rapists, child-abusers, and all manner of other wicked types in the group. I’m confident some people in the crowd had nurtured lives of sinful rebellion for which years of massive infusions of grace were required to issue into the fullness of change. As ugly as the people must have been, and as challenging as the work was to help them, Jesus shows his heart as being one of moving toward them.
O, how you need to be more like Christ in this way. Whether you’re reading this as one who never counsels, doesn’t counsel as much as they could, or counsels for a living, we all need reminding that counseling isn’t a burden to be avoided or to be complained against. Instead, when we move towards the messed up people in this life we are powerfully demonstrating the heart of Christ as he moves towards people in need of grace and help.