We who are the real people of the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh—even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ.
O sing to the Lord, sing his praise;
tell all his wonderful works!
Be proud of his holy name,
let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice. (R./)
Consider the Lord and his strength;
constantly seek his face.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, the judgements he spoke. (R./)
O children of Abraham, his servant,
O sons of the Jacob he chose.
He, the Lord, is our God:
his judgements prevail in all the earth. (R./)
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. 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 neighbours, 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 neighbours, 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."
Do you often have to spend precious time looking for something you've lost? Have you had to serch for your keys or your wallet, or even for friends who have wandered off? Many people spend years looking for someone to share their lives with. We all need people with whom we can journey and who want to journey with us. Beneath all this searching and longing is our yearning for what can satisfy our deepest longings.
The great St Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Deeper than our yearning for God is God's yearning for us. That divine yearning took flesh in the person of Jesus. His whole purpose in life was "to seek and to save what was lost." His search fo us is like that of the shepherd searching for a lost sheep or a woman searching for her lost coin. These two parables describe God's continuing search for us, to help us to fulfilment. We can take hope from this because each of us is lost in some way. Our desire for God is arises from God's desire for us. As Saint John used to say, We can only love because God first loved us.
Many of the memorable sayings of Jesus were spoken at a dinner table. Both of today's parables describe the successful end of an anxious search [finding the lost sheep and the lost heirloom] and the person inviting their neighbours to share their joy. Each of them says 'Rejoice with me!' and according to Jesus their happiness reflects God's own joy in heaven over one repentant sinner who returns to the right path.
Part of resembles the ninety-nine sheep that are quietly grazing, but perhaps in each of us there's a spark of the black sheep that will not live under restraint. Much in us has "no need to repent" even if we have some element of the unpredictable and the unruly. It is important to let the Lord find us, bring us to repentance, and return us to his flock.
But are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover what in us needs healing? With this in mind let's also recall the warning against judging our neighbour. We judge from what is before our eyes, but that may not be the full story. Other people too are being sought with love, by the grace of God, who never gives up on finding the lost sheep or the lost coin.
As baptised Christians we all have some share in the work of our Good Shepherd who never ceases to seek the lost ones that he came to save.