Leaving the Ninety-Nine

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Christ the Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
Luke 15:1-7 (CEB)

As a bit of reflection on this Gospel reading, I’m going to share a parable I heard from Peter Rollins on the recent Pints & Parables episode of The Deconstructionists podcast. This won’t be a word for word transcription from what he said, but good enough to get the point across.

 A man imagined he went to heaven and he found himself standing in front of some large oak doors. The doors slowly creaked open and an unshaven, strong and solemn figure came out. It was St. Peter, and he welcomed him saying, “Come in.”

The man was just about to step across the threshold of the large oak doors to enter into heaven when looked behind him. There he saw some of his friends who were Atheists, Buddhists, and Hindu. All from a variety of beliefs, religions and philosophies and they were unable to speak. The man looked back to St. Peter and asked, “What about them?” St. Peter replied,

“Well, you know the rules. I’m sorry, they can’t get in.”

The man stood for a second and he began to think about Jesus. The heretic. The carouser with drunkards, sinners, and prostitutes. The friend of outsiders. He took his foot back outside of heaven, back across the threshold with the great oak doors and he said to St. Peter, “I’m sorry, I’m going to stay with these guys.” St. Peter looked at the man, and a smile began forming on his face. As St. Peter turned to go back into heaven he quietly repeated,

“At last, at last.”

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