For it is we who are 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, in order that I may gain Christ.
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 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 have to spend a certain amount of precious time looking for something you've lost? That is certainly true of anyone so prone to losing things as often as I am. We also find ourselves looking for people in various ways. Parents look for their children if they ramble off. Men and women look for someone they can share their lives with. We all look for friends, people with whom we can journey and who want to journey with us. Underneath all this searching and longing is a more fundamental search for God who alone can satisfy the deepest longings in our hearts. Saint Aug.ine wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Even more fundamental than our search for God is God's search for us. God's search for us took flesh in the person of Jesus. He said of himself that he came to seek and to save the lost; he gave expression to God's longing to be in communion with us. The shepherd who searches for his lost sheep and the woman who searches for her lost coin in this morning's two parables are images of Jesus' search for us, of God's search for us in Jesus. God never ceases to seek us out because we are all lost in different ways. Our search for God is always in response to God's search for us. In the words of the first letter of Saint John, 'We love because God first loved us.'
In Luke's account, many of the great discourses of Jesus were delivered at the dining table of his wealthy hosts. Both parables he tells in today's gospel conclude with someone who has happily retrieved lost goods [a lost sheep or lost silver pieces] inviting friends and neighbours in and bidding them, 'Rejoice with me!' and such happy occasion are compared with God's own joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, which is greater than over the ninety-nine righteous who have no need to repent.
Each of us is reflected both in the ninety-nine sheep that are always accountable, and in the one lost sheep that wanders off and is reluctant to live under control. We have ideas and talents that understand and try to carefully direct. They are always with us and we are quietly proud of them, since because of them we receive compliments and awards. These constitute ninety-nine righteous percent of ourselves that has "no need to repent." But perhaps God has also poured an unpredictable and unruly talent or quality into us. Stretching the parable a bit, we might say that this easily lost part of ourselves can be a special moment of time or a unique opportunity crossing our path, chances and graces so fleeting that they can easily pass us by. All of us possess some talents and inspirations, for ourselves or the church, for our family, neighbourhood or country, that seem too idealistic even to talk about. They might be spoiled or injured by ridicule or simply by cool indifference. Or they might turn out to demand so much of us that we try to suppress them. Such inspirations could become crucial turning points in our lives—whether to forgive another and be reconciled, to volunteer assistance badly needed by a marginalised group, or to make a clear decision for marriage for priesthood or for some other vocational choice.
The parable assures us that the lost sheep and lost coin in each of us can be found. We must leave aside the ninety-nine other aspects of ourselves and seek this one, fleeting aspect. But are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover the lost coin? With this background we can also recall our Lord's warning about judging our neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see not may be the full story. Our estimates seldom take into consideration the possibility of finding the lost sheep or the lost coin. But when the lost one is found, the picture is complete. Jesus wants all of his people to share in his role as the shepherd who never ceases to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.