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A few years ago, I was working on my car with a friend of mine. Everything was going well, except that there was one little machine screw that was rusted into an old part. I needed the screw for the new part, and it should have been easy to find a replacement at Home Depot.
So I headed up to Home Depot to look for this machine screw. But because I couldn’t get the old screw out, I wasn’t quite sure of the length I needed. So, I bought two screws of different lengths, figuring (correctly) that one would be the right length. And I figured I’d just return the one that didn’t fit on a later trip to Home Depot. After all, including tax, each of these screws was only going to cost me 82 cents.
So I bought the screws, finished the repair and set the incorrectly sized 82 cent screw aside with the receipt so I could return it on the next trip. And that’s because, I’m cheap! And if I can get 82 cents back, I do.
But somehow, I never had the screw with me, or remembered it, on any subsequent trips. And finally, the day before the 30-day return period was up, I noticed the 82 cent screw and receipt still sitting on my workbench.
So I now had a choice. I could make a special trip to Home Depot to return the screw to get my 82 cents back, or just decide it wasn’t worth it. I did some quick calculations and realized, even with cheaper gas back then, this would cost me at least $1.25 in gas round-trip to make this return. And then, there’s standing in line at the Home Depot returns line…!
So even I didn’t do it! Even for somebody as cheap as I am, it just wasn’t worth it!
And I tell you that story, because in our society it’s easy to understand that taking almost an hour out of your day, spending a couple dollars worth of gas and potentially putting up with more Home Depot aggravation just isn’t worth 82 cents! No sensible person would do it. Even I wouldn’t do it! It’s just not worth it.
But that is how these parables about the sheep and the coins sounded to Jesus’ first hearers. Jesus says, “which of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost…”
The answer? Nobody! Notice that Jesus doesn’t even say, “leave the 99 safely in the sheepfold with other people watching them…” He says, “leave the rest in the wilderness” where they’ll be potentially subject to thieves and wolves. And who knows how long you’ll be looking for that sheep? Even if the rest of the sheep are fine when you get back, the time you spent looking for the sheep (even at shepherds pay) is probably worth more than that sheep! It’s like spending two bucks in gas to chase 82 cents. It’s just not worth it. Who would do such a thing?
Or, says Jesus, this woman with 10 coins. And when she loses one, she stops everything, lights a lamp and searches the house until she finds it. It might take her all day. And if she lights a lamp, she may burn through enough oil to cost her almost as much as the coin is worth. In the meantime, she isn’t getting work done that’s critical to her household, which, together with the oil, will cost her quite a bit more than the one silver coin. It’s like spending a couple bucks in gas to find an 82 cent screw. It’s just not worth it. Who would do such a thing?
And the answer, apparently, is that God would. People have been noticing that Jesus is spending an inordinate amount of time with folks whom the “good people” consider to be worth about 82 cents. Sure, they’re fine to spend time on if you’re heading to Home Depot anyway, but they’re not worth making a special trip for.
Yet Jesus is willing to make a special trip, and to spend far more than anyone thinks they’re worth.
And you can’t really understand these parables if you romanticize the sheep as cute and fuzzy, or the coin as shiny and special. You have to understand that, by all human estimations, these things just aren’t worth it.
And yet, even people who seem not worth it to others, are worth it to God. That’s the point that Jesus is making. And in making that point, Jesus is addressing:
- People who think they’re not worth it – folks who were the “tax collectors and sinners” were part of the audience…; and sometimes, we’re those people, too, at those moments in our lives when we figure maybe we’ve just gone too far off the deep end to be worth it to God …
- People who think they ARE worth it – the folks who criticized Jesus were part of the audience – they weren’t bad people…; but sometimes, like us, they needed to be reminded that they, too, were “worth it” to God, but not because they were worth more than others…
- People who think that God is really irritated that people have to be sought out and found – the shepherd and the woman don’t resent what they’re doing, and they don’t yell at the sheep or lock up the coin. Instead, they rejoice in a way that also seems not worth it. And that joy is what we’re supposed to know and reflect about God, instead of figuring that God must be really irritated or angry…
It really wasn’t worth it for me to drive up to Home Depot and return an 82 cent screw. There are a lot of things, and a lot of situations in our lives like that, where it’s just not worth it.
And because we know so many times and situations where it’s not worth the effort or the cost, Jesus used these parables to make sure we understand that each of us is always worth the effort to God. Jesus used these parables to show us the extent God is willing to go to search for us, no matter how lost we may feel, or how lost we may think others are. And even if the world looks on us or other people as expendable or disposable, Jesus used his life to show us our true value in God’s eyes.