His name was Emetz Krup – funny name for a high school kid in Marin County. To look at him you would see a boy with a slight frame, more than skinny. He was boney with sunken eyes. He had a crewcut – and this is when the rest of us were growing our hair out. Emetz had kind of a nervous demeanor. He couldn’t look you in the eyes. And his walk was more of a lunge than a walk. I never saw him in after-school sports. And I really don’t know if he was much of an academic. What he was was a Loser. At least that’s what I thought.
Now my high school was like a lot of high schools – very socially competitive. You wanted to be around the cool people. You didn’t want to be associated with Losers.
We shunned Losers: They’re uncomfortable to be around Losers were the inconsequential people in our world, the insignificant.
Emetz was a Loser And as a sophomore in 1967, that suited me just fine Because Emetz and I were both running for Class Treasurer And with Emetz as my only competition. I was a shoe-in.
But there was just one nagging concern: What if everyone voted for Emetz as a joke? Then I would end up losing to the ultimate Loser. I would have lost to Emetz Krupe.
Every society has had its Losers, its inconsequential people, its disposable people. Those who are on the fringes of the socially acceptable In Jesus time, they were called by a variety of names.
Tax Collectors were losers. These were fellow Jews who sold themselves to collect Roman taxes – oppressed their fellow countrymen.
Sinners were losers. Sinners were the people who didn’t keep the law – they weren’t careful about observing all the rituals
Those who engaged in dishonorable occupations were losers. Leather tanners were losers Their workshops weren’t very pleasant. It would be tough to get the smell out of their clothes and hands.
And then there were the Shepherds! Those who spent the day wandering around after sheep. Sheep who ate off others private property.
Jesus is in Galilee and he calls out to the people standing about: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” So who draws near to hear him? Luke says: It was the Losers! It was tax collectors and the sinners – all drawing near to hear Jesus.” The Losers heard Jesus call. The word was out that this Rabbi not only talked to Losers, he invited these Losers to dine with him. He hosted them!
Now the Pharisees and scribes saw the Losers flocking to Jesus. And they muttered: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” You see they meant it as a put-down, but Jesus saw it as a compliment. “Come and dine!”
Jesus must have heard their kvetching, because he goes over to them and tells them a parable. “Which man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?”
If you were a Pharisee, you would have been a little offended at this question. Jesus was addressing them as shepherds – losers! Pharisees might have owned sheep, but they sure wouldn’t be shepherding them. They wouldn’t engage in that sort of “Loser” occupation.
It would be like saying to Melania Trump: “Melania, suppose after scrubbing all the toilets in the White House you were to find one leaking…”
Jesus could have showed more deference to the Pharisees. But he doesn’t. He’s leveling the playing field.
Now back in Jesus day, the typical family would own not more than, say, 15 sheep. They would join with other families and hire a shepherd who may have included his own sheep in the flock. So any flock of 100 sheep would include other people’s sheep. The shepherd might not own all the sheep, but he is responsible for them – ALL of them. A loss to one owner is a loss for the whole family.
Now sheep are just plain dumb. Not as dumb as our ground squirrels who like to run into oncoming traffic and die. But just about as dumb. They will sometimes wander off from the flock, oblivious to their surroundings, and get lost. It’s dangerous for the sheep to be off alone, because that sheep will become lunch for predators.
So at the end of a long day when the shepherd counts the flock and finds one missing, he’s got to move quickly. He’s tired and hungry. But dinner will have to wait. He goes back out and retraces the days steps to seek out the sheep.
And once he finds it, that dumb sheep won’t follow him home like Mary’s little lamb. The sheep will be so traumatized that he will lie there helpless and refuse to budge. The shepherd will have to pick it up, sling it over his shoulders and carry that beast back home. There is a burden the shepherd bears to restore the sheep. Not a lot of fun.
God’s sheep wander off sometimes and find themselves lost. We do it for any number of reasons – none of them good reasons. And when we wander away from God’s flock, we expose ourselves to the predators of the world. When that happens, some see God as a stern, punishing, old man. You stepped out of line, now the ax will fall. Exercise a little repentance and then maybe God will go easier on you.
But that’s not what this parable says. Jesus says that the good shepherd takes the initiative to seek us out. And when he finds us, he lifts us on to his shoulders. Jesus bears the burden of restoring us to the flock.
Not only does the Good Shepherd take the initiative to seek us out, Not only does he lift us up and carry us back, Jesus says that the shepherd rejoices in restoring the lost sheep. Jesus rejoices to restore Losers to his fold. Jesus says: “And when [the shepherd] comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’” He’s not ticked off at us, he’s giving high-fives to everyone.
The community rejoices with the shepherd because the shepherd returned safely. Our shepherd put himself at risk by going out alone to rescue the lost sheep. There are wild animals out there. He has made it back safely and that’s something to rejoice about.
But there’s more reason to rejoice. Because this flock of sheep is owned by friends and neighbors. The loss of one sheep would be a loss to the community. So the recovery is an occasion to invite them all in for celebration.
Jesus is tells the Pharisees: Restoring a loser to the community is a time for rejoicing, not murmuring. At least that’s how God sees things. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Which begs the question: What about those 99 sheep that didn’t wander off? The Pharisees would have identified with the 99 that DIDN’T wander off. There’s no denying that God loves repentant sinners. But some Rabbis taught that God loved the perfectly righteous ones more than the repentant sinners. Jesus is being ironic here and making a subtle comment on this kind of thinking.
It’s kind of tough to find the perfectly righteous ones in the Gospels. Surely the learned Rabbis will remember what Isaiah wrote: “All we like sheep have gone astray”
For Jesus: There is no “in crowd.” There is no “circle of winners.” All are lost sheep. All of us are Losers. And all of us need a shepherd to guide us back into the fold.
Each of us is blessed to be Christians not because of our own efforts. It was God who took the first step. It was God who carried us. And it is God, himself, who delights to see us as one of his flock.
You know, the Pharisees and scribes get a bad rap from a lot of preachers. But give them their due. They were diligent and hard working. They were conscientious about their living.
I remember back in the sixties hearing testimonies of kids who had done drugs and sex and rock and roll. But then they came to Jesus and changed their lives. And everybody clapped for them and celebrated them.
Well, God bless them! But there were a lot of kids who didn’t do drugs and sex and rock and roll. There were a lot of kids who did their homework every night and worked summer jobs to get through college. They weren’t at Woodstock rolling around in the mud and freaking out to Jimi Hendrix. Do they get any credit from Jesus?
Let’s go back to the beginning of this passage. Jesus is not talking to the Losers, is he? He’s talking to the Pharisees and Scribes. And he’s not condemning them, he’s teaching them because he’s telling them a parable.
I think Jesus has a message for those who have not been tagged by life as Loser. And it’s this. God has created every life, so every life is precious. Every life is significant. Every life is consequential. Every life is worthy of an invitation to dine.
There are no Losers in life. There are no hopeless cases in life. There are only those who are found and those who are still out there waiting to be found. There are those back home with the 99 and those still out there alone and helpless to find their way home.
I think Jesus is telling those Pharisees and Scribes – those high achievers of his day: Look closer at those you would call Losers. Be like the woman who lost one of her coins. That coin did not lose its intrinsic value – it didn’t lose its worth. It just lost its place with the rest of the coins. And that can be restored.
We live in a very polarized culture right now with a lot of demeaning talk be thrown around. And we all have people in our lives that we would prefer to avoid. The ones who are the Losers. Who are the Losers in your life?
Yes, it could be that homeless guy on the corner. But it also could be a difficult family member. It could be a Democrat….or a Republican….or, God forbid, a Socialist! Who are the ones that make you feel a little uncomfortable to be around? Who are the ones you want to push off to the side. Who are the ones you murmur about?
You want to make God smile? You want to make all heaven happy? Take a page out of Jesus’ book. Hold the Losers in your life in prayer. And then find a way to invite them into your life. I know that sounds pretty radical, but that’s what Jesus did. Don’t wait for them to come to you, because they won’t. They can’t. You take the initiative, you seek them out. It takes some effort – like the shepherd hoisting that sheep on his shoulders. But there’s a payoff, there’s rejoicing on the other end.
I think Jesus was not condemning the Pharisees and Scribes with his parable. I think he was challenging them – the high achievers of his day – to even greater excellence.
I look back to my high school days and shudder at the way I thought back then. I beat Emetz Krupe for sophomore class treasurer. But I didn’t appreciate the courage it took for him to run for class office, The courage for him to stand before the student body and make his campaign speech.
It would have been sporting of me to seek him out after the election and congratulate him on a race well fought. That would have been the mature thing to do. That would have been the excellent thing to do. That would have been treating Emetz, not as a Loser to be avoided, but one of the flock. After all, I was a Christian, I was in church every Sunday. But at 15 years old, I was more like those Pharisees and Scribes standing off to the side.
At the end of the month I’m going to my 50 year high school reunion. So I wondered if Emetz might be showing up. I figured in some way I could make amends. And I could get to know this guy who was such a quirky kid. Where did he end up in life? It would be different now relating as mature adults.
So I Googled Emetz Krupe to see what ever happened to him. Emetz died in 2016.