Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he (Jesus) 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? [Luke 15:1-2]
I once met a man named Darrell who was unlike anyone I had ever met. Darrell was frightening, intimidating, angry, aggressive and always seemingly on the edge of doing something violent. It was in prison that I met Darrell.
I was helping with a prison program known as Kairos. Although Darrell was there voluntarily, he was either disruptive or would turn his chair facing away from the table, his way of telling us that he was not going to meet our expectations, whatever those might be. It would have been easy to ask Darrell to leave so we could get on with what we were there to do with the several dozen inmates.
I suspect Darrell had been culled out plenty of times before, but the decision was prayerfully made not to do that. The program was important, the other attendees were important, but Darrell was important. This unconditional love and acceptance turned out to be the chink in his seemingly impregnable armor.
There is a marvelous Bible story about Jesus passing through the city of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Great crowds are flocking around him, but Jesus peers beyond the sea of heads to a lone man in a sycamore tree peering back at him. This man, Zacchaeus, was a cheat and a traitor and had therefore been rejected from the community. To Jesus, it is not that the others are not important, but Zacchaeus is also important.
Zacchaeus and Darrell remind me of a poem an inmate at the then Manning Correctional Institution in Columbia shared many years ago. It was titled “The Throwaway Kind.” Through bad choices and malignant environments, he had seemingly ended up on the trash heap of life. His poem, however, was about discovering that God did not make anyone “the throwaway kind,” not even him. As the reading above from Luke goes on to say, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Such is the Kingdom of God.
It is our job as Christians to peer beyond the 99 and seek out the one, for no one is the throwaway kind in eyes of God.