[Jesus said,] “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?…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.” – Luke 15:3-7
There’s this great sight gag in the South Park movie that gets me every time. Green and white road signs on the way to heaven and hell give the population of each place.
Hell: 923,565,421,221—and counting fast, the numbers clicking upward like the charge on a gas pump during an oil shortage.
“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” says Jesus. Well, duh. Of course there will be. Because there aren’t ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. There aren’t even two. There’s just one – Jesus himself.
There are, to be sure, righteous persons out there. Maybe you’re one of them. But there aren’t any out there who don’t need to repent, at least once in a while. That’s what the movie makers were pointing at: nobody’s perfect. All of us fall far short sometimes (well, all of us but 1,656, evidently). That’s why they think most people are going to hell.
One thing the movie makers failed to take into account, though: the Shepherd, the one righteous and unrepentant one. Who, when we screw up and wander off, will head out into the wilderness to search for us and bring us home.
Everybody’s a sinner, at least sometimes. Everybody needs to repent, at least sometimes. And while I don’t know what the total population of heaven is, I feel pretty sure that with a Shepherd like ours, the population of hell is holding steady at zero.
Holy One, when I wander off, come get me, turn me around, and bring me home.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.