As I live with my dog, Eco, one of the major challenges I have to deal with on a daily basis is her shedding. Eco has a silky coat with smooth hair. And she sheds a lot every day. So I have to vacuum my house regularly, and always carry a Scotch roller with me to remove her hair from my clothes. There are a couple in my car all the time. Does it bother me? To be honest, it’s annoying sometimes. And I think, to those who have a higher standard of cleanness and hygiene than me, it could be a real issue.
Among many people I know, there’s one person who has the highest standard of cleanness and hygiene. And that person happens to be my mom. One day, Jee Hei and I got the news that she would visit us for about a month. It meant, she was going to meet Eco for the first time. We were so worried. So before she came, we not just sanitized our house but almost sterilized it from top to bottom. The day came at last. My mom arrived. As soon as she entered the house, I could see she was scanning every corner. Then, Eco came to greet her. My mom immediately noticed her shedding. And we were so scared waiting for her judgement, her verdict. But to our surprise, she was alright with that! And she had such a good time with Eco during the entire stay.
How come? It’s because my mom fell in love with Eco. Yes, it was the power of love. Of course, she complained about her shedding sometimes. But above all, she enjoyed staying with Eco. Since then, every time we talk on the phone, she asks me, “How is Eco doing?” And these days, she is even considering adopting a dog. That surprises me so much. Love changes many things. Doesn’t it? Once my mom began to love Eco, the joy of companionship she found with Eco overcame the annoyance of picking up her hair all day long. True, love has a power… power that enables us to find joy over judgment.
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus is hanging out with sinners. The so-called sinners are gathered around him and listening to him. Looking at this, the Pharisees and the scribes, the religious leaders in Jesus’s days, grumble, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They don’t understand Jesus’s behavior. But here, the question is, “Doesn’t Jesus know that the people he’s hanging out are sinners?” What do you think? I am so sure, Jesus knows it, and he knows much better than the Pharisees and the scribes about their sins. But he’s different. The Pharisees and the scribes only judge those people as sinners, and that’s it. But Jesus, even though he knows and judges their sins, he still stays with the sinners. How come? It’s because Jesus loves them. With love, Jesus finds joy over judgment, finds a way of joyful relationship beyond judgmental exclusion.
To the Pharisees and the scribes, Jesus tells two parables about this love finding joy over judgment. In the first one, a shepherd leaves his flock of ninety-nine to look for one single lamb that is lost. He searches until he finds it, and when he does, he carries that one lamb home on his shoulders, invites his friends and neighbors over, and throws a party to celebrate. The shepherd says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the second parable, a woman loses one of her ten silver coins. Immediately, she lights up a lamp and sweeps her entire house, looking carefully for the coin until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors to celebrate. She says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”
These parables clearly teach us today, with his amazing love, Jesus finds the lost, the sinners like us. Here in this church today, is there anyone who can confidently say, I’m blameless, I’m not a sinner at all? I think no one can say that. Jesus knows and judges our sins. But above all, he still loves us. And this love changes many things. Although we sometimes go astray like the sheep and get lost like the coin, Jesus seeks us again, turns us back to his love, and rejoices with us. And until he finds us, he desperately searches for us like the good shepherd, like the woman sweeping her entire house. His love doesn’t just give us up for our sins. Rather, his love always looks for the joy of having us back, the joy of acceptance and relationship, the joy of forgiveness and salvation, over judgmental rejection and punishment. This is the good news!
So as the followers of Jesus, who have this good news, what shall we do now? How should we live our lives? The answer is very simple and straightforward. We should love like Jesus. In detail, we should love one another with the love finding joy over judgment. I know, as humans, we can be judgmental to one another and pick up small things from one another. We often say, “That’s wrong. Why does he or she do that? That’s not right.” And I know, we come to church to be better human beings. So sometimes, as we try to be good, we apply a quite high moral and ethical standard to one another. And in this way, the church can become a judgmental place. Yes, it’s natural for us to be judgmental. I get it. But if we stop there, if we stop at judging others and don’t do more than that, we become just the same as other groups of people, just the same as the grumbling Pharisees and the scribes in today’s Gospel story.
Again, what shall we do as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ? We should love like Jesus. In detail, we should love one another with the love finding joy over judgment. Even though we see others’ mistakes, faults and shortcomings, even though we sometimes get hurt by others’ wrongdoings, please remember, we are called to love one another over our judgement. And we are called to rejoice with one another as we follow Jesus together. With our love, let us make our church a place of joy, the joy of acceptance and relationship, the joy of forgiveness and salvation. And let us make our church a place for sinners where all can come and listen to Jesus, a place for the lost where all are found by Jesus again. When we were yet sinners, Jesus loved us first, found us, and shared the heavenly joy with us. And in spite of all our sins, he still loves us. What a grace it is! So today, let us love like Jesus. Love one another in spite of their sins, find joy over judgment, and say, “Jesus loves you no matter what. So do I.” Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim