“Love doesn’t always come to us; often we have to go to it.”
Most of us reading SheLoves are reading for a reason. We want to be part of changing the world, a part of infusing God’s hope, mercy, justice and love into people and places in desperate need of it. We want practice, not theology. We want to break down the walls between “us and them” and engage in “with” relationships instead of “to” and “for” ones and create little pockets of love.
There are practices that help embody this kind of downward living. I talk about eight of these practices in Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus. They aren’t an inclusive list, but rather a good place to start. These eight practices are: extending love, mercy and compassion; welcoming pain; honoring doubt; diffusing power; practicing equality; pursuing justice; cultivating creativity; and celebrating freedom. Over the upcoming months we’ll look at each of these in a deeper way.
The first one is centered on extending love, mercy and compassion.
The key word in here is extending.
Love doesn’t always come to us; often we have to go to it.
It reminds me of the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18:12-14:
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.”
It’s easy to read the Bible for personal application and completely miss the community application. We must consider both. My friend and co-pastor at The Refuge, Karl, always reminds me that Paul’s letters in the Bible weren’t written to individuals but were written to bodies of people, to the church as a whole. When we read the Bible from a “we” perspective instead of an “only for me” perspective, things shift. Actually, they get much harder. Personal holiness doesn’t require the connection and sacrifice that real community does. I don’t know exactly what direction Jesus was going with this parable, but I wonder if maybe he was talking about the hundred sheep being the whole community of believers, or the church.
There is a strong allure to tend to the “Church of the Ninety-nine,″ the ones who already fill the pews or are connected to our ministries and work. They’re already “in.” This group tends to be louder and stronger.
Jesus, in this parable, tells of the shepherd who is willing to leave the Ninety-nine to find the One (to me, the One is the outcast, marginalized, oppressed, doubtful misfit, forgotten or neglected who somehow doesn’t cut it with the Ninety-nine).
That One is worth it.
That One is his.
That One is valuable enough to drop everything and go find …
The Ninety-nine are the ones who pay the bills for many churches and ministries and help make things go. They are the ones whose voices are loudest, who have the most power and the most influence. It leaves many shepherds saying, “If we can just keep the Ninety-nine happy, maybe we can somehow figure out how to help the One.” I understand the dilemma. The church of the Ninety-nine is powerful; its culture is deeply embedded into our models, practices and almost everything related to contemporary church.
I can’t count the number of times over the years that ministry leaders have told me that I need to stop focusing on the “hurting people” so much. It makes me laugh when I think of it, but the truth is it’s not that funny, especially in light of where Jesus spent his time. The work the ministry leaders wanted me to do was build structures and programs that the Ninety-nine wanted, to perpetuate safety, comfort, and predictability that kept everyone inside safe and happy.
The problem is the Ones are everywhere. They’re in our neighborhoods, schools, workplace, families and every single place we intersect with. Beautiful, valuable people who are radically ignored by “the church” for a wide variety of reasons.
Jesus is challenging us to leave the safe confines of the Ninety-nine and love the One. Over and over he did this. He stepped out of the religious establishment to offer hope and dignity in places where it had been lost.
I believe this is what he’s calling us to as well. To go. To extend love, mercy, and compassion in tangible ways. To get up out of the pews and leave what’s safe and comfortable to care for the One. The person on the fringes, the person in pain, the person who doesn’t feel loved or valued, the person in need of tangible help and support.
The Ones look different for each of us, but my hope is that we will bravely leave the Ninety-nine to find them. My hope is that we’ll bravely try, in whatever little or big ways we can to extend love, mercy, and compassion, instead of staying protected in our own little flock.
My hope is that we’ll consistently leave the Ninety-nine to find the One.
My dear SheLoves sisters, I’d love to hear:
- What moves you today?
- How do you consider the One?
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and recently released a book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.