Leaving the Ninety-nine

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
Hosea 6:6

Jesus quotes this verse twice in the Gospel of Matthew. He brings it out first when criticized for eating with “tax collectors and sinners,” and again when criticized for his disciples eating raw grain plucked in the field on the Sabbath. In both of these scenes the religious and faithful followers of God are using right interpretation of scripture to condemn behavior that has long been solidly placed in the “sin” category. If you follow the letter, they are right. So, was Jesus wrong?

Don’t act so shocked. Jesus was constantly telling those steeped in the right interpretation of religious scripture and tradition that they had it all wrong. Go read the Sermon on the Mount and count the number of times that Jesus contradicts unquestioned truths held by believers then, and sometimes even now. He shook things up. Why do you think they put him on a cross?

Are you willing for Jesus to prove you wrong?

I once had a friend ask me a life-changing question, “When you go to the scripture (to investigate a certain issue) do you simply read to find where it supports your view, or are you studying with a willingness to find out that you are wrong?” What I am finding among my fellow Christ-followers is a majority using the first method, and very few using the second.

Over the past several months I have witnessed some in the church professing ideas and ideology that directly contradict the teachings of Jesus. They would join the Pharisees and religious leaders criticizing Jesus for eating with tax collectors and sinners, they’d be criticizing Jesus’s disciples for harvesting to stay alive during the Sabbath. Their actions and language mirror the self-righteous (which let’s be honest is simply an “I am RIGHT” approach to the world) attitude based on rigid certainty expressed by the criticizers in these stories.

If you are promoting what Jesus refuted, you are anti-Christ.

My response to these churched friends has often been to argue or try to convince them that the world is bigger than their narrow interpretation. I desperately want to believe that others truly want to follow Jesus who taught us to love others and stand in judgment only over our own actions. This has left me discouraged, worn-down, and disheartened. What is worse, it has left some of my not-churched friends with the impression that Jesus is rightly represented by those anti-Christ expressions.

What do you do when your churched friends
are driving your not-churched friends
away from Jesus?

I’m really glad I don’t have to make up an answer for this question. Jesus answers it for me. When he was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners, he took the side of the sinners. When his disciples were taking heat from acting to preserve their lives, Jesus took the side of his disciples. He sets the example both in action and in his teaching.

Luke 15 holds three parables in which Jesus speaks of precious items gone missing. The coin, the sheep, and the brother are lost in different ways, but the response by the one who lost them is the same. Set aside the 9 coins, the 99 sheep, the scorn of the other brother and prioritize bringing back what was lost. That applies whether the separation was from neglect, ignorance, or rebellion. Prioritize the one who needs to be drawn near.

That is a hard teaching. I’m a Church girl. Born to pastors, granddaughter of missionaries, career pastor myself, I have deep roots in the Church. Church people are my people. All of this makes it excruciating (look up the origin of this word) to think of severing ties with some people in the church-world. This is what I believe I am being called to do.

How can I do this?

First, I no longer believe it is my job to change their minds. I know that people in the church have unfettered access to information, study, resources, teachings, and the Holy Spirit if they need their minds changed. God has done so much in me to change my mind and open my heart that it would be ridiculous to think I would be indispensable in the process of God doing the same for others.

Second, my Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came for the sick, not the healthy. He came for the sinners, not the righteous. I must follow Jesus.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is timothy-meinberg-rw06ki6fby-unsplash.jpg

Does this mean I am leaving the Church?

Of course not. Go back and reread the paragraph that starts with “That is a hard teaching.” The Church is not something I can sever myself from. There are those in the Church who are also looking to the interests of others, seeking those far from the Kin-dom, venturing out to tend the wounded. These are what Paul called “my fellow workers.” There are other people in the church that are throwing stones at those already wounded, and I cannot allow my connection with the stone-throwers to outweigh my connection to the wounded.

There are others called to be prophets in the church. I will let them do that work. I am called to bind up the brokenhearted, to bring the healing grace of Jesus to those who are suffering, to tend the wounded no matter who hurt them or how they came to be on the outside.

The ninety-nine are safe.
The one is where I am called to do my work.

Thanks to Artists who share their work:
Sheep Photo by Emilie Crssrd on Unsplash

Christ Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Church Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

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