I was struck today while rereading the parable of the lost sheep, that traditional notions of evangelism in the modern iterations of Christianity often get the concept wrong. If you are unfamiliar with the story Jesus tells in Luke 15, here it is in the language of Eugene Peterson’s The Message with the context of the story, “By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religious scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, ‘He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.’ Their grumbling triggered this story. ‘Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it -there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.”
Jesus powerfully makes the point that was probably lost on the self righteous audience. Jesus points out that there is no discernible difference as far as salvation is concerned between those with a “doubtful reputation” and those who prided themselves in their religion. In fact, Jesus seems to making the point that those who are lost should receive more attention than those pretending to have it all together. Yet we continue to spend the majority of our resources on this charade of righteousness that we call “being saved.” For example, we add many definitions to the term “Christian” but Jesus simply said “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples by your love for one another” On that simple definition, I think most of us would be hard pressed to identify a Christian. Certainly we can aspire, and at the end of the day we are completely dependent on God’s grace and work to save us, but instead we collectively and generally default to keeping rules, lists, dress codes, church attendance, American values and call that Christianity. It isn’t.
I’m currently watching this Netflix show called Inventing Anna, it is about a young lady who conned her way into New York’s circle of elites. She does so by learning to use their manner of speaking, dress, and love of appearances to convince them that she is a wealthy heiress, when in fact she has no money or connections. She leverages social media platforms and people’s desire to belong to fuel her con. Eventually she is caught in her web of deceit, but her story illustrates a powerful message. The very system that she infiltrated to perpetuate her false identity, willfully provided her with all the tools necessary to do so.
I wonder how many times we leverage the trappings of Christianity to perpetuate our own hypocrisy? Christianity as I experienced it, often attempted to convince me that I was a part of the ninety-nine. I was righteous and good based upon my church attendance, biblical knowledge, and generally good American morals. But in reality, this kind of culture reinforces a false sense of security centered in a Christian elitism. An elitism that results in us thinking better of ourselves than we ought, when in reality we are all just broken people along the spectrum of brokenness in need of help.
The Ninety-nine doesn’t exist. The lost and hurting do. It is all of us and Jesus is the answer.