Summary: As Christians, our task is not to ignore "the lost," but to seek after them like a shepherd seeks a lost sheep, or a woman her most prized possession. And when any one who is lost is found, we should join in the heavenly celebration!
When I was in elementary school, sometime before my tenth birthday, my grandparents gave to my sister and I each a diamond necklace. Now, these diamond necklaces were nothing fancy; a simple gold chain with a diamond solitaire setting hanging on it. But they were beautiful, and they were special. My Mom kept the necklaces hidden away with her jewelry, and on Sunday mornings after getting dressed, my sister and I would go to my parents’ bathroom, and they would help us put the necklaces on before going to church. We only wore the necklaces to church and on important occasions because it was special jewelry. And each time we wore the necklaces, we remembered our grandparents fondly.
Somewhere in the midst of my many, many moves over the last decade, I have managed to lose my necklace. I didn’t realize the necklace was missing until about a year ago when I got some new earrings that go perfectly with that necklace. But I just can’t seem to find it now. At one time, my sister had borrowed my necklace because the chain was a little longer, but she doesn’t have it now. And then I thought that the necklace was safely stored at my parents’ house, with my mother’s jewelry, just like it had been when I was young. But it’s not there either. Nor is it stored away with my jewelry. I have looked through every box trying to find that necklace. Still I have had no luck. I remain hopeful that someday that necklace will turn up, but every now and then I look for it again anyway. Sometimes I look for it because it would be great with something I’m wearing, but sometimes I look for it simply because it is special to me. And I know I won’t stop looking for that necklace until I have found it, I’ll probably always have hope that it will turn up somewhere.
And that’s exactly how God looks at us, all of us! The Bible is full of all kinds of good news, especially in the Gospels. But some of the best news of the Gospel is right here in this passage from Luke. And it’s this: God in Jesus Christ comes to us; God seeks us in our lostness! We are so special to God that he searches for us and never gives up. In fact, God is so determined to find the lost that he sent his Son among us! As Jesus tells these two parables to the grumbling scribes and Pharisees, he unveils this amazing and wonderful truth about our God. No Pharisee had ever dreamed of a God like that, a God who would so desperately search after the lost. No Pharisee would have ever conceived of a God who went out to search for sinners. But this is the love of God; the love that became incarnate in Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save the lost. And God in Jesus Christ is never going to give up that search on us, or on anyone else! Nor should we! And every time the lost is found, we should join in the heavenly celebration!
But why is this big celebration so important? If we are to truly understand the celebration of the shepherd and the woman, we have to understand these parables as Jesus’ first hearers would have. The people of Jesus’ time would have easily understood the important and difficult job of a shepherd. Throughout biblical times, tending flocks and agriculture were the basis of the economy in the Middle East. And in Judea, shepherding was no easy task! It was difficult and dangerous. Pasture was scarce. The narrow central plateau in that area was only a few miles wide, and then it plunged down to the wild cliffs and the terrible devastation of the desert. There were no retaining walls and the sheep would wander. A poet describes the shepherd in this way: When you meet a shepherd, you are immediately struck by him, “sleepless, far-sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff and looking out over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front in his people’s history; why they gave his name to the king and made him they symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”