New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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.
The Parable of the Lost Coin8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
I remember the moment clearly - the moment I promised to myself that I would keep the ring close for the rest of my life. Many years previously, my dad's father had given it to me. He had made it himself for his mother, and, through the course of time, he came to give it to me. I remember that day quite clearly, too, but that is not the day in question. No, on the day in question I was wearing my class ring on a necklace around my neck. I had lost weight, so it no longer fit on my finger.
On that day, my grandpa was watching baseball in his den, as usual. I came in to talk to him, each moment with him more treasured than they had even been previously; he was dying, you see. We were talking about my cousin, who had recently been by with his fiancée. Grandpa turned his eyes on me, and apparently did not hear my question, because, instead of answering, he looked at me and asked, "Is that my ring? Let me see it." My heart plummeted. His ring was in the house, but it wasn't on me, and I told him so. I don't know if that actually bothered him or not, but I felt like it did. Clearly, me wearing his ring was important to him, so, from then on, I did wear it on a chain around my neck. It was too small for my fingers, but I found a way to wear it, nonetheless.
The ring became familiar, expected. In a way, I found it as much a part of me as my face. On the rare occasions that I had to remove it or forgot to put it on in the morning, I felt entirely naked. It was a comfort, a physical reminder of how much my grandpa loved me. It became a matter of occasional rolled eyes, but I didn't let that affect my resolve. It was important to him for me to wear it, and it was important to me to have a part of him with me. So I wore it.
The ring was so familiar that, when my mom's dad got sick, it was generally accepted that I would be given a ring of his to add to my necklace, which I was. It was not one that he made or anything, but it was his high school class ring, something he still occasionally wore. I slid it on the same chain, and, although the rings were clearly too heavy for it, I still wore it every day.
But then, one day, I reached up to hold the rings during a test I was taking, a habit I had taken to while thinking, and it wasn't there. I absolutely panicked. Terror coursed through me. The only things I had of my grandpa and pop-pop were gone. I cried. I banged on the doors of any friends I thought would potentially have paid attention to what I had worn that day, begging them to let me know if they had seen it on me, trying to figure out exactly when I'd lost it. But no one remembered seeing it. In spite of the knowledge that I'd put the necklace on in the morning, I tore my apartment apart, but with the ever-sickening thought that I had not properly clasped the necklace and it had fallen into the grass on my way to class. Not finding it at home, I skipped chapel and carefully scoured the grounds, seeing with even more terror that they had recently been mowed.
It was a lost case, I knew it. I went to another class from which I would have learned just as much if I had spent its time continuing to look for the necklace. I used the time attempting to convince myself that they were just rings, not a big deal - just things - and I still had the knowledge and memories of my grandfathers' love. But it was no good. I felt like I would live the rest of my life with some portion of the sinking feeling in my soul. I berated myself, telling myself that I was too attached to a worldly object, but it helped nothing.
Finally, feeling stupid, I prayed. "Oh G-d," I said. "Just help me find it. I'll trade any of my possessions. Just help me find it." But, by the time I collapsed, exhausted from panic and tears, in my bed and fell immediately asleep.
In the morning, I went looking for my school ID card, so I could get breakfast. I grew even more irritated at myself, as I realized it, too, was missing. Eventually, I pulled out the jeans I'd worn a few days previous to check its pockets, and there was my necklace. I accepted at that moment what had happened. Delighted, I put it over my head, called my friends, and went to buy a new ID card. I knew I had traded the lifeline of the ID card for the necklace. While I normally would have been devastated at the loss of the card, I knew I had gained something so great, that it wiped away the dread of the telling off I was about to receive. I had gained back my lost grandfathers in that moment.
As I read Luke 15 this morning, I couldn't help thinking of this event in my life. Suddenly, I understood so much better what Christ was talking about in his parables. G-d made a trade - something so crucial, so important (but re-attainable) in exchange for something inexplicably valuable to him, although something that caused the sneers of those around him. G-d exchanged Christ for us.
When we turn around and show up at His feet, there is such celebration. The other things that he had always had are no less valuable, just as my treasured stuffed mouse was no less valuable, the quilts my mother had made me were no less valuable. I would be just as devastated if I had lost any of those other things, but, at the time, they were not lost. I had found something that I thought was gone forever, something that meant the world to me.
I think what surprised me the most was that, even though my friends rolled their eyes when I fingered the rings around my neck or scathingly joked about how I wore them every day, they genuinely celebrated with me about finding them. We smiled, laughed, and ate way too much. The world was perfect, for just a day. THIS is how G-d celebrates with Heaven when a lost one turns to Him. Those of us who had always been with Him are no less important, but what was once lost, is found, something for which he traded everything. The celebration must be more than we can imagine. If I can throw an entire, class-skip-worthy party over finding a necklace, G-d, who is bigger, more magnificent than all of us put together must have something even more enormous than that for every lost soul.
Praise G-d, from whom all blessings flow.