Join the Party

From Luke 15: 1–10

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

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Lina Thompson
Seattle, WA  |  U.S.

Both of the stories in this passage, as well as the following story of the prodigal son, conclude with parties. There’s so much celebration over the things that were lost and now are found.

Why a party? Jesus is so intent on making sure we understand the heartbreaking nature of being lost that the only way to help us really get it is to celebrate the restorative grace of being found.

The Gift of Celebration

One of the things that I love about my heritage is that we celebrate just about everything. Most every Samoan family I know celebrates the one-year old birthday with food, drink, music, laughter, gifts upon gifts. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, friends – everybody comes. It is a full on bash. High-school graduations? Same. My high-school graduation party had 400 guests.

Celebration is connected to honoring. It’s not so much the actual person; but, when you do it correctly, you celebrate the God who made it so.

We always celebrate in a big way. The whole community comes out to help the family thank God and recognize, even for just a few hours, God’s goodness and faithfulness. There are always words of gratitude for families, for communities, and for God.

So when I read about these parties that Jesus is throwing, it’s not that hard to imagine. While I’ve never been to one of these “lets celebrate the lost being found” parties myself, the reason for why Jesus is calling everyone out to celebrate is not lost on me. It was a big deal to Jesus.

The Lost

I’ve been around a few “lost” people in my life over the course of my ministry. How many times have I heard or thought or said, “Man, dude is lost.” And in that statement, I feel sad and hopeless, like I have come to my limits in what I am able to do or offer. It requires too much sometimes, going after the lost.

What does it take to actually go after the “one”?

It just doesn’t make much sense – especially if you are trying to lead a ministry. Let’s be honest here. Leaving the 99 to go after the “one” doesn’t make fiscal sense. It doesn’t make sense in terms of where you spend your time and energy. I am not sure it’s the best leadership development strategy either. And sometimes, that “one” doesn’t always stay “found” if you know what I mean. Are we really going to throw a party before we know for sure if their “found-ness” really sticks? (I’m sounding more “righteous” by the minute.)

And the “lost” coin? Some commentators suggest here that the actual party probably would’ve been worth more than the value of the coin.

The Ninety-Nine

This only makes sense if we are willing, for just a moment, to suspend, if not abandon, what seems most natural to us, which is actually to play it safe – we think – for the sake of righteousness. If you haven’t caught it yet, this lesson is for the 99. Which I’m guessing is most of us.

I’m wondering if in this story, Jesus is posing this picture to the 99 who are standing by in awe of Jesus’ choice to leave them and go after the lost sheep: Why aren’t you out here helping me find that one lost sheep? Why has your righteousness translated into a “grace” that doesn’t extend toward individuals and communities who others have deemed “lost”. This is where I am. I am “out here.” Join me, won’t you? Leave your brand of “righteous-ness” and join me out here. That may sound a little counterintuitive if not blasphemous, but if Jesus is “out there,” doesn’t that give us license and freedom to go as well? I can’t help but hear a hint of “sarcasm” in Jesus’ teaching. Besides, a nod toward the prodigal son parable which comes next in this trilogy, would suggest that the younger irresponsible son isn’t the only lost sibling. (hello older brother!) Even our “righteousness” can make us blind. And, as in the case of the older son, it actually can make you bitter. I don’t think that’s the point of righteousness.

God’s desire is that all are found. That’s where the party is. That’s where the celebration is. We will miss the party if we play it too safe. The invitation is for us to be party-makers too, with Jesus. To understand how the party “jumps off” as young people would say. It begins when the lost are found and brought back into the community—a community being formed by God’s relentless, searching, inclusive grace. Truth be told, we probably were lost at one point in our lives or may even be lost right now. God’s grace is for us too.