Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins,if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Perhaps some of the reason these parables are hard for me is that we live in a culture that is constantly reminding us not to take things, and especially people, for granted. We love the story of the guy chasing after some perfect woman, only to discover her terribly flawed, and that the woman he really loved was his best friend all along. The message of that cliche is clear: don’t waste your time looking if you’re going to ignore what you already have. These parables have the opposite message. They say that whether it’s rational or not, we’re not going to get as excited over something we never lost.
We are made in God’s image, right? To me that means that God probably has emotions, and like ours perhaps they are not always the most rational. And it’s not like I think God is going to completely ignore life-long Christians when they get to heaven. But just like I don’t wake up every morning bursting with joy that my church friends are Christians, the way I would if my former best friend found God, maybe God gets a little more excited about the lost being found too.
Or perhaps Jesus is referring to how He feels on Earth. Kind of how the healthy don’t need a doctor as much as the sick do, the righteous don’t need to hear Jesus’s message nearly as much as the non-believers do. Maybe He means that His time on Earth was best spent finding lost sheep, especially since God has all of eternity to watch and care for the rest of the flock. However, re-reading, I do see the words “more joy in heaven” in the sheep parable, so perhaps my first interpretation was better.