The Challenge of the Ninety-Nine

I was challenged – convicted is what we called it when I was growing up – this morning in church by a verse from the scripture reading. It was not the perspective that ended up being given in the sermon (a dramatic monologue that was quite good) but something that just hit me as I was reading the passage.

I was struck by Luke 15:7 (and it is rumbling around in my head still):

I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance.

The standard way to think about the story of the lost sheep – the story that opens Luke 15 - is to think about how much God cares about us.  And that is certainly worth thinking about.

But what hit me was how rarely do we share this way of looking at the world – the counter-intuitive perspective of the above verse.

God cares about sinners.  He longs for their return to him. And as the verse above points out, heaven rejoices more over repentence – over the lsot being found – that it does over those righteous day in day out.

Think about that. How often do we act as if sinners are this important; as if repentence is that important to God?

Let’s be honest, there is a tendency amongst a certain set of Christians to go through life complacently – and arrognantly – as one of the 99 righteous.  God loves us because we are good Christians who go to church and know our theology and maybe dress the right way and pray the right way and quote scripture. Being part of the “righteous” feels good most of the time, doesn’t it?

Or maybe we denounce the world – the vulgar, ugly, debauched world – with condescencion in a way that makes us feel just a little superior (not that it isn’t all those things) because we are not that way (at least as far as anyone can tell).

Maybe we even get angry with the world – the way it so frustratingly refuses to think the right way and do the right things. This anger is couched in righteous terms – and is frequently based on the right reasonings, morals and ideals – but this anger is all too often motivated not by faith or piety but by the emotional high we get from righteous anger directed at our political, cultural, theological [insert your choice here] enemies.

If we were one of those 99 sheep wouldn’t we feel a little put out that God would leave all of us righteous folks to go a search for that one lost sheep? I mean, didn’t that sheep have it coming? How many times does a sheep need to be told before the consequences of their actions come home to roost? Are God’s priorities out of wack we might wonder.

How might those lost sheep feel differently about coming back to God if the 99 didn’t carry around this attitude? How might we relate to God differently if we shared his view of the 1? If we rejoieced more in repentence than in the righteous being righteous?

I will stop with the endless questions.  I include myself in all of the above – and it is of course an over-generalization with all the weakness that implies. Bt it struck me reading the passage this morning and I thought I would share in the hopes of making more sense of it myself.


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