Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So, he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” This is the Word of the Lord.
Lost and alone
When I read this passage, I could imagine a sheep wandering all alone in the darkness, in fear and trembling. How scary it must be. There were a lot of wild animals around in the darkness. And how lonely it must have felt. When I was young, I was once lost in Changgyeong Palace. Changgyeong Palace in Seoul, Korea. A very crowded place. It was a scary experience. I was chasing after a balloon and after about 10 minutes I looked around. There was no mom around and I can’t remember exactly, but the emotion, that scary emotion was still very vivid to me.
It is the best feeling to be in 99. We feel safe, warm and comfortable. We don’t feel alone. There’s a group that I can belong to. It is a good feeling to have people around us whom we can depend on, talk to and get advice from. A sense of belonging. It is very important that I belong to somewhere.
When I went to Yale last weekend, when I first got there, I was the only Canadian. There were all Americans and I looked around I was the only Asian. Oh, my goodness. I was sitting there alone, but soon they made me feel so comfortable. I had a great time with them. Two evenings later, about 13 of us, went out for dinner and they found a good place. And then the one guy just paid for everyone. I told them “that’s only what Koreans do.” And they paid for him. It was a really wonderful experience that I had.
Being alone is hard. Some kids who are alienated in school experience serious pain. Some of them even commit suicide, but it’s not just children that seek acceptance. But it is also important for all of us, for adults to have a sense of belonging. We don’t want to feel rejected, not wanted. You want to be recognized, respected and loved. Mother Theresa said this “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” I think it’s pretty profound statement. We should never make other people feel this way, but there are a lot of people around me and in the world who live with this loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted. They live day by day in isolation. When I go to the nursing home I feel terrible loneliness. And loneliness is a universal experience in our fragmented world.
When we are in deep pain, we feel loneliness. We feel that you’re all alone. When people have a serious illness that’s what they say. “While they’re waiting, they don’t just have fear for the unknown future, but they also feel terrible loneliness, feeling that nobody can help me. I’m all alone to fight this.” When Jesus was on the cross, he said, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He didn’t say that God had abandoned him. That’s not what he was saying. He was expressing his deep pain, the pain of being disconnected and totally abandon from everything, including God. That is a pain that we read. When we are in deep pain we feel lonely. Especially when we feel that we are alienated and feel worthless and feel the nobody understands us we experience pain in loneliness. The lost sheep represents the people who lost not just their way, but everything. Confidence, self-respect, and self-worth. And these people feel lonely, not simply because they are alone physically, but deep inside they feel that I’m not wanted. Deep inside, they feel that I’m worthless. Nobody wants me, nobody understands me. I’m all alone in this giant universe.
What is the solution? I don’t think the solution is not just trying so hard to be a part of 99. I don’t think that is a solution. It is not good to try to be a part of 99 simply because it is more comfortable. We may feel lonelier sometimes we can lose ourselves in the crowd. When you look at the story in the Bible, for example, Job, he lost everything. He lost his honor, dignity, respect, everything! He lost his health. He lost his children. He lost his wealth. Everything was gone. For more than anything else. He felt terribly lonely, losing everything. He was all alone. Job’s friends came to comfort him, but they made Job feel lonelier. Job needed his friends, but he cannot just join his friends, agreeing with them superficially just to be part of them, just to be one of them. He couldn’t do that. He had to find himself. He had to find his own way. That was why Job argues so much with them, not because Job was argumentative, but he had to find himself. He cannot just be part of them. Agreeing with what they were saying. Samaritan woman was like the lost sheep. She feels alienated from people. In reaction, she made herself isolated. “You don’t want to see me? I don’t have to see you. I can live by myself.” So she was living in isolation. She cannot just go back to people and join them. Even if she went back by being just like them, completely ignoring her own needs, she would not have lived a happy life. But when she found herself through Jesus, she was able to go back to them. Actually, when she found herself, the first thing she did was to go back to the people.
When we feel lonely, our answer is neither just to look for a group to join, nor to live alone in loneliness. I only see these two kinds. They feel lonely, so they look for friends. Friends not to share deep stuff but friends to forget about your loneliness, friends to just have fun. That’s not a friend, that’s not friendship. If you just have friends because you wanted to avoid your loneliness, you’re just using them. But there’s also some people cannot even find friends so they just give everything. They just live alone. But, I believe that when we feel lonely, I think that is the best time to meet God in a meaningful way.
We can never meet God unless we are alone. To have a meaningful encounter with God, we need to be alone. When we are alone, sometimes we can see things more clearly. When we’re with people, we don’t see it. But, when we are totally alone, we can see life much more clearly. More often than not, when we are alone, we have a higher chance to be able to meet God in a meaningful way. We just finished studying the life of Jonah. When he was on the boat with other people, even though he faced a storm, he cannot really see things clearly. He cannot even see himself. He could not find himself, he cannot find God. But when he was thrown into the ocean, when he was all totally alone at the bottom of the ocean, in the belly of the fish, when he was alone, he met God in a radically new way. When Jacob home and slept in the wilderness alone, and when Jacob took his family across the river first and when he was alone at night, that was when he met God meaningfully and he found his identity, Israel. He found himself, he found God. Moses’, Samaritan woman and Paul. They’re all like that. When they were alone, they met God. That’s why Jesus often at times likes to be alone. He was always surrounded by people, but he had to move away from them. He went and wanted to alone.
Finding an Opportunity
Being lonely is not what you experience all the time, but when you experienced that, use that opportunity to meet God instead of quickly finding friends. Use that opportunity just to sit before God. Jesus told us today and in the scripture, the shepherd will never leave us alone. When we feel lonely, the shepherd comes to look for us. Whether it was because of our mistakes, stupidity or the situation or people who made us feel isolated, it doesn’t really matter. God does not look for a justifiable good reason to come to us. There’s no such thing as, “well I’m lonely because people make me lonely,” but sometimes we feel lonely because of your sin, because of your mistake. When you’re at the bottom of your life, you feel lonely. It doesn’t matter why. What is important to God is that the fact that you are lonely and will God come to us. To go one step further don’t just wait until you feel lonely. We should practice to be alone, even to be lonely. Sometimes don’t even turn on the TV, don’t turn the radio, don’t distract yourself. Just sit. Even if you feel lonely, that’s what we need.
It is comfortable to be in the crowd, but if we are in the crowd all the time, we cannot meet God. Jesus said implicitly in today’s scripture, 99 righteous people who need no repentance, very interesting expression. 99 righteous people, who need no repentance, who doesn’t really need repentance? We all need repentance. In other words, the crowd who doesn’t know themselves. That’s what Jesus is talking about. The 99 who needs no repentance is the crowd or the mob that doesn’t know themselves. Sometimes when we are in the crowd, we’d lose ourselves. We don’t know ourselves.
I experienced that when I used to be a youth pastor for the teenagers. These teenagers individually when I meet them, they’re a human being. But when you gather them together, they turn into animals, beasts! Where did they come from? They lose their personal identity and just become a mob. Sometimes we are like that. When we are alone, we find ourselves. But, when we are in the crowd, sometimes we lose ourselves. We don’t even know who we are. In the 99 who needed no repentance, we cannot truly fine God. We can find God in the one who is lost because God will leave the many to look for the one who is lost.
We sometimes live our lives totally losing ourselves in the crowd. We do not know who we are. We do not know what we want. We do not know what God wants from us. A sign that shows that people are lonely is that they always look for people. They look for something to do to distract them from themselves because they are scared of being lonely. Let us be courageous. we need to leave the crowd and be all alone. We need to find what is really important to us, what we live for, who is God to us? Loneliness. Sometimes it’s the best place to do that. So being lonely, it’s not necessarily all bad.
I shared that with our women’s Bible Study Group. I was at a silent retreat. I really looked forward to it. Silent retreat at a center. There is nothing that you do. You’re just go and be silent. Nobody talks. When you eat lunch, nobody talks to you. We just say hi, but you don’t say hi. You should say hi with your eyes. After you eat lunch, you just go back to your room. First Day was great. Oh, my goodness. I had so much time. I got so many books I started reading. I enjoyed thoroughly. The next day, “so what do I do now?” I’m all by myself. I can’t talk to anybody. And I was feeling a little uneasy. And the third day came, I started missing shopping center. Oh, my goodness. I need people. I need to see people. I need a crowd. I need the hustle and bustle around me. And I felt totally lonely. And the next day came all the darkness coming up and I asked myself, who are you? Who are you? Sometimes loneliness can bring a miracle to us. You could totally awaken you.
Second Secretary-General of UN, a Dag Hammarskjold was awarded the Nobel peace prize and he was a very good diplomat and he said this, “pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.” I think it’s a pretty profound statement. When I went to Yale, I just left the crowd one day for a few hours. I walked around Yale campus and I was just by myself. It was so good. And then I was thinking about what is that something that I live for and what is that something that I die for? After all, I attended the seminar. The title was Life Worth Living. So I want you to think about that.
When people who have meaningful time with God and with themselves in their lonesome, when these people gathered together to make up 99, that 99 will not be the 99 who do not need repentance. The 99 will be the spiritual community. People who gathered together just because they are lonely do not make a spiritual community. They will just use the community. I just need that group. The spiritual community will never be built like that. Two lonely people came can make each other lonelier. Just because you’re lonely, don’t meet people. You can make yourselves lonelier. Let us have time alone with God and come back and reach out to those around us. In that way, we build a spiritual community. Let us defeat, together, the loneliness that is predominant in the modern technocratic society. We human beings become isolated in this technocratic society. Let us defeat loneliness. This society makes being a human being so lonely but by being together we can build a spiritual community. Let us fight the loneliness.