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Now his elder son was in the field and as he came near the house, he heard the music and dancing . . . And he was angry and would not enter in. Luke 15:25, 28

Losing things? In all probability you are unlike me, but I am the kind of person who loses things. I’ve even noticed that my memory is losing things: names, telephone numbers, appointments. “Write them down” you suggest? Sure, I’ve done that and then lost the paper. Recently I came across a cartoon about a man who must have felt like I do when I lose things. He was confused, scratching his head, and couldn’t even remember what he was looking for. The caption read: “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”

It is a good feeling to recover an item of value that has been missing and presumed lost forever. What is an even better feeling and a real cause for celebration is to actually find something when I am spending a lot of time and effort looking for it. “I have found it!” In situations like this, when I am excited about my good fortune at recovering something that was lost, I find that there aren’t a lot of people who genuinely share my joy.

Jesus told three stories about loss and recovery that really resonate with me. They are stories told from the perspective of three individuals who feel the pain of loss and the subsequent joy of recovery. He told these stories in response to a group of “killjoy” religious people who couldn’t tolerate, much less celebrate, Jesus’ association with people of ill repute and questionable character. Jesus seemed to be more eager and excited to spend time with these “low-lifes” than with the pillars of the community. This so irritated the religious people’s sense of dignity that they openly criticized him for celebrating with them: “He even eats and drinks with such people.”

In response to their concerns Jesus told these three stories—about a shepherd who invites his friends and neighbors to celebrate his recovery of a sheep that had become separated from the flock and was lost; a woman who invites neighbors to celebrate her finding a coin which she had lost; and a father who throws a huge celebration party upon the return of his estranged son who had insulted him, dishonored the family and run away from home. I am sure that among the invited celebrants there must have been some who thought it senseless to celebrate the recovery of a singularly stupid wandering sheep, meaningless to celebrate finding a small and probably worthless coin, and inappropriate to celebrate the return of a disgraceful, errant son.

The point of Jesus’ stories is hard to miss. Celebration is the order of the day—for the shepherd who places as much value on a single straying sheep as on the flock that is safely in the barn; for the poor woman to whom even a single coin represents enormous value; and for the father who still loves the estranged son who drags himself home in disgrace. The pillars of the community completely missed the point of Jesus’ mission to look for and to save the lost. His mission was to recover the very people that the religious leaders loved to hate. Jesus came to recover the ones who they thought should be consigned to the error of their wandering ways. He came to invest Himself in searching out the people they viewed as being worthless and not to be bothered with. Jesus’ message to those who found no joy in the recovery of losers was to point out that to God, those losers are of immense value. Their recovery is worthy of celebration.

We live in a world that doesn’t place much value on losers. After all, they are victims of their own wandering and disgrace, and they come from an unworthy lineage of losers. All too commonly, society and religion place a high premium on the recovery of a celebrity from drug abuse, the rehabilitation of a war hero, the restoration of a popular politician, etc. these are the ones we put on our social and spiritual pedestals. But little or no value is placed on the skid-row drunk who dries out, the welfare bum who inherits a small fortune, the despicable child molester who finds religion in prison, etc. These are the people whose worthiness is questioned and whose change is discounted. But in the kingdom of God these people are of value and their recovery, however strange or specious it may seem to us, is a recover worth celebrating. Jesus might just as well have told these stories to the church that is concerned about ex-prisoners sitting in its pews; to “compassionate” religious leaders who are loathe to preach Good News to vulnerable men and women in prison; or to you and me when we prefer to sit at table with the comfortable elite, rather than the lowly and reprobate.

Ron Nikkel (used by Permission, Prison Fellowship International)

– This article comes from AI’s “No Higher Calling,” a devotional for lawyers.

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