S. Pentecost 17.16 “Losing It” Luke 15:1-10
Jesus is losing it. Everyone notices. He is increasingly seen in the company of hedge fund managers, women of easy virtue, Colorado state crop entrepreneurs, politicians, and philosophy majors. “Bad company, You’re keeping there, Jesus! What would your Mom say?” Well, the Pharisees and scribes have no problem speaking their minds! As the church council, the spiritual elite, they feel neglected, dissed by, and just plain annoyed with Jesus. He must be losing it if He think this is any way for a respectable and divine Messiah to behave…
And in response, Jesus tells one of His cryptic little stories that leave you scratching your head, struggling to understand. Among His many quirks, this weird devotion to Narrative Theology and Indirect Communication (like Hans Frei, Paul Holmer, and the quirky Yale School types favor) is really getting on everyone’s nerves. But here He goes, again, on His own… with a smile Jesus replies: “Hey, what man of you having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing, and when he comes home, parties with all his friends for joy over it? I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 just persons who need no repentance…”
Heaven is a going to be a strange place, don’t you think? I think so. I often wonder why most automatically assume that everyone will want to go there. I don’t observe that most of us have this kind of joy over finding a lost sheep than over having 99 to take to market. If heaven is a place always gaga over a lost loser who straggles in late to the party, and relatively “meh” over 99 solid citizens who can be counted on in a pinch, well I’m just not sure how happy most of us are going to be to get there and how much we will enjoy it as we now are (which, BTW is why all of us, myself included, will require a rather drastic make-over to be truly fit for Heaven. Like dying and rising with Jesus drastic, which is not an entirely benign procedure!).
We are so used to hearing Jesus’ parables, so confident they have some obviously moral, upright, and positive message to lift the spirit, that I wonder if we really hear them as His original audience heard them? Or if we notice how really strange most of them are, odder really than a Borges story. This one especially. Which of you, having a hundred sheep, if you lose one won’t leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one lost one till you find it? Uh, OK, I’m going to say few of us would do that! Only someone who’s really losing it would do that! Because that is a sure way to end up with zero sheep—or just one sheep, if you’re really lucky. A sheep that will wander off that way is really more trouble than good by any rational accounting. Acceptable losses!
I was talking about this with one of our members last week and he and I thought that there are certain members of any congregation, whose return—if they had wandered off and stopped coming and the pastor went and with great difficulty coaxed them back—would not produce joy in the congregation but rather a testy elders meeting where the sensible ones would go: “Why did you have to go and get that guy back, pastor? Voters meetings are so much happier, quieter, nicer without him! What were you thinking?!” Kind of like how excited mom was in high school when you let her know that you’ve patched things up with Randy Evans your hoodlum, class cutting, drug abusing, loser friend. Great! Mom’s so happy this lost soul’s been found! And Heaven is a place where such joy is sincere and unfeigned? Hmmm. Reconsidering your reservation…?
Jesus feels your pain. So, He softens the blow (a little) with the next story. Say you have ten silver coins; and you lose one, won’t you turn the house upside down until you find it? And when you find it, you’ll call friends and neighbors to rejoice with you? Well, OK, if we’re talking about money, Jesus, yes it makes more sense to look hard for a collectible silver coin, especially if the other 9 are safe, not defenseless in the wilderness the way You left your 99 sheep. This is money, after all, we’re talking about! But the part about calling all our friends to party with us over the joy in finding it is kind of out there, losing it again, Jesus. Because the party will (perhaps) cost more than the value of the silver coin, so probably, we would not do that either! Actually, if we’d lost it and found it, we’d pretend it was still lost, so that maybe our friends would buy drinks and dinner next time we go out…
I wonder sometimes if Jesus is really one of us, really gets us fully? I mean, I know He’s an omniscient Guy and all, but sometimes I really do worry about Him and His grip. I mean, He’s Lord and God and all, but really: don’t you think He’s kind of losing it, here?
Of course He is! Jesus is the biggest loser after all. He did not gain a world by winsome wisdom and easy get ahead in business advice, but by losing everything, even His own life, dying on a cross for a world of losers that hated Him. His is not a happy theology of how to win friends, influence people, and get rich quick. His is a theology of the cross; of suffering, losing in order to gain, dying in order to live. It is a theology you can grasp only by losing it yourself.
The opening scene of Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye has Philip Marlow outside an LA nightclub, worried about “what a lot of golfing money can do for the soul”, trying to get Terry Lenox, a hopeless drunk, into Terry’s wife’s Rolls Royce. The valet won’t help—‘cause drunks are just trouble, and “a fella has to protect hisself in the clinches.” Marlow shoots back: “I see you’ve made a great success of it!”, and before the guy can slug him, as the Rolls vanishes, Marlow scoops Lenox up and into his own Oldsmobile, heading off on another ill-advised adventure…
We protect ourselves. We hold fast to our little gains. And what great success has it gotten us? When Jesus talked last week of hating our lives in this world as key to gaining His, this is what He’s talking about when He talks about Heaven. By holding fast to what is ours, clenching our fists tight to protect ourselves in the clinches, we cannot receive what Jesus gives away. Success makes us small, petty, blind to the grandeur of the Heaven Jesus shares with losers, free. “Success is not inviting to him/ His gain is to be profoundly vanquished by ever greater things.”
Jesus is always losing it in order to find you, me… And His loss is not only our gain, but initiates us into a whole new Way of Life where the lost are found, the found are lost, and Heaven’s a treasure only the poorest can afford, only the lostest can find. Realizing your 99 sheep friends are actually rather dull, you’re maybe ready to venture off with Jesus on a Wild Sheep Chase. And you just might discover the Sheep-Man who finds you lost this Way is key to the Mystery. Being lost with Jesus is always way more fun, way more exciting, than being found with the 99. Losing it turns out to be key to finding Peace surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.