Scripture for this Sunday:
Jeremiah 4.11–12, 22–28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1.12–17; Luke 15.1–10
The news seems to have a succession of examples of people who are lost and require the efforts of search and rescue teams. One example is Amanda Eller, who went on what was to be a short hike on a familiar trail in the Makawao forest preserve on Maui without water, phone, and wallet. She didn’t know she’d get lost. Generally, people don’t plan to do so. She became disoriented and went deeper into the forest; after three days, she fell and broke her leg; the next day, she lost her shoes in a flood. The official search for her was called off after 72 hours. But volunteers kept looking. After 17 days she was spotted by a helicopter. She was injured and dehydrated – but alive.
Those involved in search and rescue have a strong commitment to their role to seek. Officials who have to suspend searches find it very difficult. Why do we expend so much time and energy searching for one or two individuals who are lost? Because we have a powerful attachment to human life – and because it matters.
Generally speaking, in the broadest sense, we are more often than not in an analogous position to that of officials who call off a search. But God does not. God is like the volunteers who won’t give up. The president of the Mt. Hood Search and Rescue Council of Oregon said: “if it were up to the volunteers, I don’t think we’d ever call off the search.”
That, of course, is the point of the parables that Jesus used to describe God’s attachment to the value of human life. Not only does life itself matter to God, but the value of the life that we live in this life matters, and the value of everlasting life matters.
And remember the beginning of the incident that led Jesus to deliver two parables. Some people were, “grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners.’” What Jesus says, tangentially, but firmly, is, “it’s not for you to judge.”
Therein lies both hope and a warning for us. The warning is about judging, about failing to forgive, about resentment, about holding grudges. So when we judge others, what are we thinking? When we hold onto resentment, what does that say about us? When we bear grudges, whose burden is that, really?
If God is willing to pursue reconciliation, one wayward soul at a time, why can’t we? Do we honestly think that our opinion carries more weight than God’s? Do we really believe that any slight that we may have felt is worse than the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus? Do we basically believe that we are better than God, or more important than God? If the human value of life, lived now, lived in God’s eternity, is worth that much to God, why should it not be worth that much to us?
Because if God is busy searching for the lost ones, if God is the one who persistently, relentlessly pursues those who are like a single lost sheep, or a single lost coin, who are we to complain that the search hasn’t been called off?
And beware. The parables may contain a warning – about the presumption, the sinful pride of judging others. But they also contain hope. Because one day, we may be the ones who need God’s persistent searching. Remember Amanda Eller. Generally, no one sets out to get lost.