“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” —Luke 15:7
I have a list of missing items. As of this moment, it contains three items: (1) the sixth Harry Potter book, (2) a condenser microphone, and (3) some black Nike basketball shorts I had when I was in eighth grade. Given that I’ve already read the missing book and outgrown the missing shorts (probably, although given how baggy my clothes were in 1999-2000, it’s possible the shorts would now be too big rather than too small), it’s not such a bad list. My frustration comes less from really needing the missing items and more from the unanswered question of where on earth these things could have gone.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about missing items: a missing sheep, a missing coin, and a missing son. Tucked in the center of this chapter is today’s verse, which makes explicit the point of the story: God is all about restoring lost people to his family.
If I were to find my missing book, mic, and shorts, I would be thrilled. I wouldn’t be angry at the book for having been lost in the first place. I’d just be happy to put it on the shelf where it belongs.
With people, however, we sometimes have competing emotions about those who haven’t found their way. Too often, we spend our mental energy making unhelpful comparisons with other people, building ourselves up by condemning others. “I may not be perfect, but I would never do that,” we think. Because we get a sick pleasure from these comparisons, there’s a part of us that doesn’t really want people to get their lives on track. And if they do, we comfort ourselves with the fact that we never sank to the depths that they previously inhabited.
But this attitude ends up getting us all off track. Because the God of heaven and earth is all about the restoration of lost people. In fact, the most dangerous situation is the one in which we imagine that we ourselves don’t need restoration. When we think we’re not in need of restoration and redemption, we cut ourselves off from the power of the God who longs to find us and heal us.
So may we celebrate with heaven that even people as lost as we are can be found!