Lost sheep and lost coin. There are three things you have to know about the words of Jesus about the lost sheep and the lost coin. No. 1, they are insulting; No. 2, they are comforting; and No. 3, they are challenging.
No. 1, they are insulting. Remember who Jesus was talking to. His audience were the religious professionals: the official teachers, the legal experts. And there were two groups at least that they disliked, distrusted and despised. One of the groups at this time in history was shepherds. Shepherds were looked upon not as romantic figures like the days of King David, but by the religious establishment they were looked upon as uneducated, unclean, unholy and a forbidden profession. And Jesus turns around and says it plainly and direct: What if one of you were a shepherd? What if you had a hundred sheep and lost one? He's really insulting them to their face. And another group that they didn't think much of was women. Women were second class citizens. In that culture, if they were eyewitnesses to a crime, they could not testify because they would not be believed. So Jesus says, What woman among you? Isn't it plain and direct that He's insulting His critics? But not just insulting.
The second thing about the words of Jesus, they are very comforting. Here's the story of someone having a hundred sheep and he loses one. And what does he do? What you and I, if we were sensible, would do is we would make sure we didn't lose another. We would take care of the 99. Instead, Jesus says God goes seeking after the one lost sheep, risking everything.
And here's even a better example of how God feels about us when we are feeling small, and insignificant, and unworthy, and unholy, and unspecial. God sees us as treasured and as special. God loves us and treasures us. What if you were a woman who lost a coin? Well, let me tell you about that coin. Back in the 1960s right after I was ordained they put out a new translation of the Bible, which we used in church. It was the official one that we were supposed to use. And the Bible scholars translated the amount that the coin was worth, which was 10 cents. This woman lost 10 cents, and she searched the house for it till she found the 10 cents, and then she invited her friends and neighbors in to have a $200 party. This is why the French missal says the love of God for us is insanity. By our standards, it makes no sense at all.
This really happened. 1964, I'm ordained, I'm just a year a priest. And on Sunday I'm preaching, so at all six masses I read about the new translation, which is a woman had ten dimes, she lost one dime and she searched for it. That afternoon I went to St. Patrick's Seminary for a swim. One of my classmates, Fr. J.J. McCarthy, a priest in San Francisco, was there. And he came over to me and he said, “You know, Brian, you paid more attention in Scripture class than I did. Will you tell me what was that coin we had at mass today?" I said, "What coin?" He said, "The dimé." At six masses he had said the women had ten dimés, she lost one. His eye would not allow him to believe that it was a dime. It could be a dime. God's love for us is insanity. His words are insulting to the Pharisees, comforting to us, but also challenging.
Setting aside accountability, and responsibility, and change of heart, of which there are a lot of calls, how wide is the circle of God's mercy and forgiveness? And how wide should be our circle of mercy and forgiveness? Let's try a little test, a little litany, and check off the list as you go along.
Is there forgiveness for Adolph Hitler, who led the Nazi regime in the extermination of millions of innocent people? Is there forgiveness for those who operated the Killing Fields of Laos and Cambodia? Or in Uganda where Idi Amin piled thousands of bodies of those he suspected to be his enemies? Is there any chance of forgiving Saddam Hussein who ordered the torture and slaughter of untold numbers of men, women and children, let alone and not to mention Osama bin Laden? Is there forgiveness for the pair who killed classmates and teachers at Columbine? Is there forgiveness for those who continue to persecute the people of Tibet? Is there forgiveness for centuries of slave owners? Is there forgiveness for slavery, for segregation, for apartheid? Is there forgiveness for those who practice immigration laws that separate babies and children from their parents and prevent people from working in order to feed and clothe their families? Is there forgiveness for pedophile teachers and pastors who sexually, physically and emotionally abuse children? Is there forgiveness for those who knew what was happening on their watch but did nothing about it? Is there forgiveness for bishops who want to control rather than to lead? Is there forgiveness for those who abort 41 million children each year? Is there forgiveness for the mistreatment and neglect of the elderly and the sick? Is there forgiveness for all the car bombs and roadside bombs that maim, cripple and kill in so many areas of our troubled world? Can there be forgiveness for the horrors resulting from the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or of Hiroshima, or of Nagasaki?
If we find ourselves uncomfortable and maybe even in disagreement with some of those areas of forgiveness -- and I do -- it may just be that we have not yet sufficiently absorbed and digesting the words of Jesus and the vision of Jesus. The words of Jesus and the vision of Jesus is held together for us in the story of the lost coin and the lost sheep but also in a song that we sing here, Loving and forgiving are You, oh, Lord. Slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving are You.