The final story in my trilogy of posts includes a list of people in its preamble. These people divide into two categories:
- The Religious Elite: Pharisees and Teachers of the Law
- People you assume will be on God’s ‘must smite’ list: Tax collectors and Outcasts
Story Three: The Sheep Farm
One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!” So Jesus told them this parable:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them—what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbours together and say to them, ‘I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.
My favourite children’s picture book of the Christian variety is this story as written by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen.
I actually get a genuine kick out of telling it to preschoolers and showing them the pictures as a farmer goes looking everywhere for his one lost sheep.
The farmer gets hot and tired as he crawls through brambles and trudges up hills. Then at last, he finally finds the sheep, fallen into the river.
At this point I usually get the children to predict what they think the farmer will do. One time I got the answers:
He’ll tell the sheep to swim over to him and
He’ll get in a row boat and row out to the sheep.
Then I turn the page and let the picture do the talking.
This is what God is like. He dives in ‘boots and all’ to bring into his fold people who are wayward.
The religious snobs just don’t get it. They took issue with Jesus having dinners with sinners. Jesus’ reply is basically “I’m going to be feasting with this crew for all eternity, so I might as well start now.”
Because the sheep that went walkabouts eventually did a spiritual U-turn.
He stopped walking off on his own way and changed to walking the farmer’s way. This is what Jesus means when he says ‘repents’. And Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t have any blacklist of outsiders who he says can’t do that sort of thing.
“Dinners with sinners?” Jesus says to the religious snobs. “No problems. That’s how God rolls.”
If HNAC Alison was ever to turn up to a Church service (highly unlikely, but this is a hypothetical-hypothetical so just run with it) she’d be pretty worried about not being welcome.
There she’d be, stepping into Church, the atheistic type who may have dabbled in a bit of new ageism just for interest’s sake, have a couple of Buddhist quotes on the wall for inspiration, mixed in with a healthy dose of ‘religious’ materialism (yep, this is so me not-a-Christian) what would these Churchies think of her?
What would she think of them?
Not much I reckon, if she didn’t get a decent welcome.
I know there have been plenty of occasions when I haven’t been the most welcoming at a Church service. This has been impacted by the fact that often I don’t feel that welcome there myself– and I’m a regular attendee!
It’s just unfortunate that across time immemorial there will always be the Pharisee and Teacher of the Law types who consider themselves part of an exclusive spiritual club.
Jesus’ story makes it clear that whatever welcome an outsider receives (or has received) from a Church, God’s welcome mat to the kingdom of heaven is long and wide.
When that wayward sheep turns itself around, heaven goes mental, in the celebratory sense. Hopefully you get the same at a local Church.
Yours in U-turns,
Image Credit: Illustration by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen