“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” — Matthew 18:14, NRSV
This is an excerpt from the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew, a favorite of mine (you probably know by now that I have a lot of favorites) because of it’s encouraging message. Today, I want to share that message with you.
Life in our world has become full of writing people off. Those who make mistakes, big or small, are often defined by those rather than any other positive characteristic they may possess. I’m willing to bet that you have, at one point or another, been written off in the minds of others.
You could have done something absolutely awful. You could have simply done the wrong, minor thing. You could even just be of the wrong race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or economic class. In any event, I imagine you know what it’s like to feel cast aside, condemned, and undervalued.
At the same time, we all have a tendency to write others off as well.
The “major” sinners?
The “angry black woman” sharing her experiences?
The conservative family member trying to get a word in?
All of these are examples of my own sinful inclination to shut down and categorize rather than open up and provide a welcoming space for others, as I would like them to do for me. It’s wrong, and it’s something that I bet we all could stand to work on.
So looking at this parable from Jesus, we should note two things: the grace we are to accept and the grace we are to exhibit.
You see, God’s grace is not meant to just be received. It is to be imitated and shared by those who claim to follow Christ. The same holds true here.
First of all, there is no specification on the one sheep who goes astray in verse 12. Is this the first or tenth time? Is the sheep intentionally wandering off, going to dangerous places? Does this sheep deserve to just be left behind? Just as it doesn’t seem to matter in Matthew’s text, neither do I believe it matters in life.
We all stray from the paths of doing right and loving as we should. Some of us do it habitually, time and time again, while others constantly make brand new mistakes. Maybe you’re one who just has a big one every once in a while. In many instances we resign ourselves to our destructive cycles of behavior believing that we are “just that kind of person” because everyone else seems more than happy to accept it. In any case, the only specified truth of God’s attitude toward straying sheep such as you or I is this: “It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
This is the grace to be received. It is not God’s will that you or I be lost. Regardless of the multitude or intensity of our sin, God’s will is that we will accept the truth that we are worth more than we think. Infinitely so.
God sees our flesh and being as good enough for the Divine presence to reside in, evidenced in Jesus Christ (John 1:14). God is NEVER going to give up on you. So, don’t you dare give up on yourself.
Addict? Cheater? Murderer? Abused? Abuser? Promiscuous? Angry? Hurt? Gossiper? Some of these are sin, some are the result of it, but none are who you are. Those are distortions of who you are. Those are filters that cloud your image of yourself. You are a creation of God, you are loved, and you can be set free from even the darkest parts of you. I have experienced this personally many times, and I hope you will become open to these experiences as well wherever you are at.
That’s the grace to accept. The grace to share is the grace to extend to others the same love God extends to us. Just as God’s motherly arms remain open for us to run into, even when we turn away, so should our arms remain open to those who need someone to believe in them.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we accept abuse or utter mistreatment. It is not God’s will that any person remain in an abusive relationship out of love. Call the police, get yourself safe so that you can be treated as well as God desires for you (that’s a lot).
What it does mean is that we stop writing people off. We let our hearts, arms, and ears remain open to those who challenge us, those we’d like to avoid, those we don’t feel we should respect. We might even call them enemies.
“Love your enemies.”
Sound familiar? See the quote here. No, it isn’t out of context. No, it is not exaggeration. Jesus means it. Just as God extends grace to us, so we should do the same for ALL others (5:48).
If we just take and refuse to give, nothing will change! The cycle will continue. If, however, we receive in order to give, accept love in order to show love, THEN we will see the coming of a whole new world. It may hurt or be uncomfortable, but it is is also the most blessed and powerful endeavor there is, for it is the sharing of the Gospel.
So there you have it. God hasn’t written you off (and never will), so don’t let others (or yourself) do it either! Know that it is never to late, that you are loved, and you are called to love. If we can accept this, we are then free and able to share that love, and usher in a new way of life for all.
Peace be with you!