Jesus tells the Pharisees and the scribes, because of their grumbling about his spending so much time with tax collectors and sinners, two stories: about the joy of finding a lost sheep, and the joy of finding a lost silver coin. And he says 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. And he also says Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
A fairly devote friend of mine complained to me about this passage, and his belief that these were unfair statements by Jesus. He said (and I paraphrase here): Why wouldn't the angels of God rejoice over his daily and regular work for the creation of kingdom? Why should the one who had acted so badly and then turns around get all the attention? A part of me understands his feelings and reaction to this passage. We all want and desire to know that we can create that kind of reaction from the angels of God that the passage ascribes to them over the founding of the lost sheep and the lost coin. What about us who are working so hard at not being "the lost" needing to be found? Shouldn't there be joy for us too?
I was at first struck at the similarity of my friend's question to the feelings (the grumbling) attributed to the Pharisees and the scribes. And I asked my friend if he saw that similarity. Although he did not like having that pointed out to him, to his credit he did see the parallel of the two.
We need to remember that Luke calls these two stories Jesus parables. So instead of taking them literally, what if we looked at them and saw a way to imagine that we are those angels of God rejoicing at the coin that was lost and found. What if we are the ones being joyous in heaven at the one "sinner" who repents. We are all sinners, at some point or another, that's just part of being human. But being part of this intentional community that is the Body of Christ in the world today, allows us to be joyous when one of us finds our way back, or when a new person joins our ranks. We live in that joy. We are that joy. We represent that joy to others who need to know it. And we are welcomed joyfully back in when we stray, when we are lost.
There is such remarkable hope in today's passage. Such joy.
Copyright 2010, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.