The Ninety-Nine

Posted: November 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

Recently a friend and I were talking about what it’s like to grow up in the modern church. I say the “modern” church because I have no idea what past churches were like for kids. What we both expressed was the feeling of never being lost. Which begs the question of whether or not we’ve ever been truly “found”. I mentioned feeling like we were almost “robbed” of the conversion experience that many people find so powerful and transformative. The question I’m left with is should we, children of christians, be more pitied than all men?

When I was a child I thought as a child. When I thought of myself I saw very few wrongs because anytime I saw a wrong I was so overwhelmed by it that I immediately confessed it and tried to make amends. I was an unusually sensitive child when it came to my wrongdoings. My sister, on the other hand, was so very obstinante that my mother used to spank her before they went into a situation in which she needed to behave. I was the exact oposite. If my parents even looked at me the wrong way I would break down in tears and confess any and all trespasses – even the ones I made up. I’m not sure where this came from. We were both reared by the same parents and my “spiritual sensitivity” started far too early to be from simple religious inculcation. It’s just who I am, or at least who I was.

What this left me with, once I reached the age of reason, was an impression of myself that was very positive. I knew the rights and wrongs. I knew what a christian did and did not do and I followed these rules to the letter. I can remember numerous times when reading the bible that I had the pharisaical notion that “I really should just write down all the rules so I could have a copy of them to follow.” Then I would be ok. It took me much longer to understand how deep the problem goes with humanity and even longer to convince myself that I was broken too. “But I’m obviously BETTER than those people!”

In the Gospels it seems that Jesus is doing one of two things: He’s either trying to get people to follow the law of moses to an even slighter degree…Or He’s trying very hard to get them to say “Who then can be saved?” This is not an inconsequential question. I believe the entirety of his relevancy, his messiahship, and the possibility that he might be the incarnation of the creator of the universe may very well hinge of this.

If he is asking people to draw closer to the law of moses (“not one letter shall pass away” -Matthew’s Jesus) then he is just another prophet telling people that they need to try harder. He’s here to reprimand you for not trying hard enough. He’ll do this for awhile and then he will die and we will all go back to being the people we were.

If he is trying to get you to HONESTLY ask the question “Who then can be saved” then He might just be something new.

When I was a child and thought about making that list it did not occur to me how impossible the things Jesus was asking us to do/be were. I mean…I had it down. I knew the steps. If there was something new to them then I just needed to learn it and practice a bit and then I would have it down too. But as I think of some of the demands he makes…

Love your neighbor as you love yourself – #1 You must actually learn to Love yourself and then…#2 Actively seek the GOOD of your neighbor…like it’s your job or something.

Love your enemy – I used to think this one was easy because I didn’t have any enemies. But  here again, you must ACTIVELY try to DO GOOD to the people who most irritate you and DO NOT recognize your value as a person. Often it’s the people who have power over you or those people who have really hurt you. Can any of us say we do this with a straight face?  I know I failed miserably at this one in my last job.

Forgive or you will not be forgiven (a corollary of the last part of The Lord’s Prayer)- This one is actually frightening. Could our forgiveness actually hinge on our willingness to forgive others? I think it can. I’ve known people who will not forgive and the invariably cannot let go of past wrongs and the pain they were caused. They carry them around everywhere they go; into their relationships and into conversation. They refuse to lay down these burdens because the hurt has become more beautiful to them than freedom. The other reality they live with is an inability to forgive themselves for their own shortcomings which turns into harsh judgement for anyone else who does not live up to their standards. I had thought for a long time that I escaped this one too. But these days, every time I think of the friend who so recently hurt me, I just want to hurt him back. That too is a burden I need to lay down.

“Who Then Can Be Saved?”

“Nobody, stupid”


I think that must be the point of these “hard sayings”. We’ve heard them a lot and so they no longer carry the power they once did. They are not meant to show you the way so that you may walk it. They are meant to show you that you couldn’t walk it if you tried. They are meant to point out the fact that while you thought you were safely in the flock of 99 you’re really the one He’s searching for…out in the rain, on the edge of a cliff, just barely hanging on. Yes, you. The one who grew up thinking you were a nice little sheep. You will bite and scratch all the way home, because that’s who you are. But He will carry you just the same, because that’s who He is.

Maybe one day you’ll be one of the ninety-nine. But that day is not today.



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