† In Jesus Name †
May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you as you walk through this time of Harvest!
- Context! Context! Context!
I recently began riding a bike again, and I am amazed at how much more you are aware of everything around you than you are in a car. From the potholes to neighborhood dogs to whether you are going uphill or down.
You end up so much more aware of your context!
As we look at scripture, we need to be aware of the context of the passage! Not just who is talking to whom, but what surrounds the passage we are looking at, what bookends the passage.
Today we see these bookends:
10 “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.
4 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish…
And so there is a lot of focus on those God considers His little ones… and the rest of the passage gives us insight into who they are…
- Take Care of the Little Ones
So who are these little ones? We start to see who they are in what the two comments book end.
12 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! 14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.
So this isn’t just about those we normally think of as “little ones.” It follows through their lives, and God is the Shepherd who never gives up. So God’s little ones include those of us who have occasionally wandered away, whom He is working to return.
God cares about each of us, as much as every parent cares for their child. It is something that never changes, this care that God has for us. The only difference is God doesn’t worry like a mom whose son just got a new bike. (Even if he is a 58-year-old pastor!)
But God rejoices when we He is able to forgive and restore us. His joy is so enthusiastic that Isaiah says He will dance when we arrive at the point where all of God’s children are home! And that, even now, when someone comes to depend on God and the promises He has made to save them, all heaven rejoices!
That’s something that to me shows God’ love. It doesn’t stop because we throw a tantrum, or we tell Him off, or we decided we would rather have it our way, and dwell in what we call sin – the destructive behaviors God has warned us about—because those behaviors destroy our relationships, with God, with others and our internal peace.
What is worse is that when we are caught up in such behavior, we are like that lost sheep, we don’t even see the mess and the danger we’ve gotten ourselves into!
Which is why God sends Jesus, and his followers out to find us, and bring us home.
And He does do that—He searches for us, He sends friends and pastors and other believers to find us, He might even drag us to see a friend or family member prayed for, or a child’s back blessed and to see them sing…
All to bring a lost wanderer home to where they can find peace, where they can know they belong, where their souls can find rest and healing.
Because we are God’s children, this is what He wants for us!
- Those Needing Forgiveness
Which brings us to the last section of our gospel reading this morning.
15 “If another believer* sins against you,* go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid* on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit* on earth will be permitted in heaven.
We have to see that this passage isn’t about just correcting someone who has done us wrong. It’s about bringing that little one, that sheep that is wandering lost, back into the family, to make sure they know they are welcome at home.
Notice it doesn’t put the emphasis and the work on the sinner, but rather on the one who was sinned against, the one still in the family, still part of the church. It is our job to restore people, to take on the sin and work for reconciliation in a process.
Not just one conversation, several, then several involving wise men of the church skilled in reconciliation, then even bringing the entire church into the discussion – that the lost sheep might be restored…
That is the responsibility of forbidding and permitting, what is called the authority of the keys. To use the responsibility God gives us to say sin is forgiven, or not, to rejoice in the announcement of reconciliation—this is even the end of treating someone like a pagan or tax collector – the people that Jesus reached out to, and died to save.
It’s all about bringing the children of God back to Him – no matter how far we have wandered.
SO let’s go bring everyone who is lost and wandering home, even as God has brought us here.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
12 “What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep. 13 When he finds it, I tell you, he feels far happier over this one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost. 14 In just the same way your Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost. Matthew 18:12-14 (TEV)
199 “He hasn’t got the time?—So much the better. Christ is interested precisely in those who do not have the time.” (1)
“Some people want to live with the sound of chapel bells, but I want to run a mission just a yard from the gates of hell!” (2)
The parable of the 100 sheep is one the church needs to hear today.
But we won’t like it, if we hear it, the parable will bother us, it will irritate us at first. I can here people saying, “Why would Jesus leave us behind? Why isn’t he here with us, why does Jesus go after that stubborn lost sinner?”
Of course, we won’t say that aloud. But when we see the church’s primary ministry to its members, that is exactly what we are saying. There is no lost sheep that Jesus would search out, rescue, reveal Himself to, so that he can care for them, heal their souls, and bring them back home. It has been His mission since the Trinity laid down this plan before the foundation of the world.
St Josemaria says it well, Jesus is acutely interested in those who do not believe in Him, in those that think Christianity is a bunch of myths, that it was a religion dreamed up and changed in order to get people to behave properly. He is interested in those broken by sin, by sexual sins, by greed. He is interested in those with broken marriages, broken families, those who grieve. He wants to be with those who have no time for Him, because of all of those things and more.
He will even leave behind the “good people” to search them out!
Well, sort of.
Okay, not really.
You see, it is those of us, nourished by God, who Jesus takes with Him to search out those He is interested in finding. He would through our hands, our voices, our lives, and brings back those who need healing and cleansing and restoration; even as we do, even the healing we are finding in Christ.
For we have been sent by God into the world, even as Jesus was sent into the world. Not to condemn it, but to work in Christ to see it reconciled to the Father. Its what we do – as Christ’s body, as His people.
It’s not that Jesus is less interested in us, it is that He can’t bear to see one of His people, on of the Father’s children, off alone. Off in dangerous places. dangerous to the body and to the soul.
Lord have mercy on the lost ones, and have mercy on us by guiding us to them, that we can remind them of your love. AMEN.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1039-1040). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Rough remembrance of the opening lines of Steve Camp’s song, “Run to the Battle”