This bizarre story will change the way you love.
There is a bizarre story that Jesus tells that changes the way we love.
However, before we even begin reading the word’s of Jesus, we have to set up the backdrop, the context, the scene by which Jesus is telling it. In this instance particularly, the setting is just as important as the content.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “this man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
Who is in the room? Who is listening to Jesus? Who is together?
The sinners and the tax collectors - The Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
To our modern ears this doesn’t mean much, but to these people this meant everything! These were not just two groups of people who didn’t see eye-to-eye on things, these were polar opposites. These groups camped on the opposite side of the park. These were enemies.
The Pharisees thought these “sinners” were scum; the “sinners” thought the Pharisees were hypocritical bigots.
It was complicated. It was messy. It was ugly.
Yet here you have it. The lowest in society is sitting in the room with the highest of society; Jesus has captured both group’s attention. They are there for different purposes, but they’re all the same. Listening. Waiting. Seeking.
The Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
That’s a strange story to tell.
I mean, come on Jesus, you have captured quite the audience here. Why are you wasting this precious opportunity to talk about sheep?
There are a lot of important things to take away from this story, but I want to focus on the most bizarre of all.
Although this story might not make much sense to us, it made absolutely NO sense to this group of people who heard it from Jesus. At least not at first.
Because it’s not true.
Sheep are stupid. They wander off; they get in trouble; they mess up. If the shepherd left the 99 to go after the 1, the 99 are in danger. Shepherds would be out of a job pretty quickly if they listened to Jesus’ shepherding advice. Chances were better that the shepherd would just cut his losses on the 1 and keep a better eye on the 99 who stayed close to him.
So when Jesus suggested this, it definitely caught the attention of the crowd. Why? No shepherd did this! Jesus continued:
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
In other words, this isn’t a story about sheep. It’s a story about God and people. It’s about Pharisees and sinners. No one in that crowd would have been confused about who Jesus was referring to in this story. The Pharisees were the “good sheep,” while the sinners were those who had wandered off.
While Jesus was in front of both these groups, he told them about a “Shepherd” who cared about both groups. This Shepherd was not satisfied with simply staying with the sheep who stayed close to him. He cared deeply for all his sheep.
Because the value of the sheep had nothing to do with whether it stayed close or wandered off. That sheep mattered because it belonged to the Shepherd. A sheep’s value doesn’t come from what it does. A sheep’s value comes simply from being a sheep!
The meaning of this story is clear. It should be clear to us in the same way it would be made clear to the two groups sitting in front of Jesus had he told this story: your performance, what you do, how you behave, how other people see you . . . all the stuff that you think gives you high or low value - it doesn’t. Your value doesn’t change because your value doesn’t come from those things.
Read that verse again.
Read it once more.
Jesus connects our ability to love God and love others to our ability to love ourselves.
Too often our value is fragile. It’s tossed like a bottle in a stormy sea moving with the trends and the opinions that swarm around us. We look outward to figure out how we feel inward.
Jesus does not give us that option. Jesus reminds us that our value is not dependent on what other people think or even on what we do. It did not matter if the sheep wandered off or if the sheep stayed close to the Shepherd. The Shepherd loves his sheep and will always fight for them.
Loving well comes from knowing how valuable you are. If you want to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength you have to first learn how to love yourself.
If you want to love your neighbors, friends, family, and enemies, then you have to first know your worth. If your value is never compromised; if your value never change then it becomes easier and more natural to love others.
You can’t start outsourcing your love until you have built up a stock of it in you.
Loving well truly does come from knowing your value. And it all starts with changing the way you see you.