I consider myself to be a rational person.
I mean sure, I’m emotional. After a heartfelt episode of Glee or when those Tide commercials come on during the Olympics—I am a blubbering mess. But for the most part, and on most days, I think I’m a considerably rational person.
The truth is that because I am a rational person, I know better than to believe a lot of things. I know better than to believe that global warming is just a myth. I know better than to believe that systems of racial, social, and economic injustices have been absolved. I know better than to believe that the Sunday morning brunch wait will, “just be 15 more minutes.”
And to be honest, I know better than to pray.
Because I’m a person who believes in doing things that make sense.
I know better than to do things like get down on my knees to talk to someone or something that I can’t elucidate or articulate or touch with my bare hands. I know better than to believe in a God that sees war and strife and pain and sorrow and seemingly does nothing—a God that feels so very far away. And I know better than to surrender to something that I cannot understand. So then why, why, do I pray to, believe in, or even love something that I know better than?
Now, despite some of his parables, I think Jesus was a rational guy. He didn’t often let emotions or the pressures of the crowd take over his behavior. But in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives up his good sense and says a completely irrational parable. The text in chapter 15 reads,
“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him and the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So 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? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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.”
From my understanding, from my rational thinker, this parable makes absolutely no sense. Why, Jesus? Why, Does it make sense to leave behind ninety-nine sheep to go after just one? And why does Jesus ask the question in this way?
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness?”
Who does not do this? Jesus, no one does this. No one leaves all that they own to go after one wandering, irresponsible and naughty sheep. The sacrifice would be too much. It would take too much time, energy, and trust to pull something like this off. The sacrifice simply does not outweigh the cost. And frankly in my world, it doesn’t make sense.
The Pharisees generally get a bad wrap in the Bible. But in this case, I feel just like them. Because in this parable, Jesus seems to be leaving his own people behind. He seems to abandoning those that have stuck with him. And it begs me to as the question, “Why does God feel the need to offer welcome, to those who have chosen to leave?”
The truth is, I don’t feel like a very spiritual person these days. I don’t feel like I have many meaningful insights, new revelations, or good news to share. I don’t feel like I’ve stuck with Jesus. I feel much less like the ninety-nine, and more like the one.
The reality is that in my time of theological education, I have seen behind the Great Wizard’s curtain. And what I have seen doesn’t exactly match what I always thought was true. There are more days than I’d like to admit that I have a hard time praying. Days that I leave the classroom de-mystified, doubting, and disappointed because the God that I constructed in my imagination years ago gets cut off at the knees. Because I can’t make sense of him, or her, or it. Because the brain that has been taught to question and study and push and prod and grapple and tear apart every Scripture and sermon and lyric can’t comprehend a God like this one. I can’t understand a God that leaves behind the ninety- nine for the one.
So why do I pray even though I know better? I pray because I have to. I pray because even when I feel nothing in my heart, my knees still need to touch the cold, hard tile. I pray because of the way the Prayer that Jesus prayed stings my ears every time our lips say those words, “as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” I pray because of a God whose love I can’t escape or outrun—no matter how hard I try. No matter how far I roam this God will leave everything behind to find me. This God will sacrifice everything to bring me back. So why do I pray even though I know better? I pray because Jesus tells of a God who’s ‘Irrational Rationality’ deep down makes more sense than anything I’ve heard in a classroom. God’s rejoicing over my return moves my heart in ways that my brain cannot.
I think it is embedded in our bones—the need to surrender to this God of love. It is frozen in the marrow of who we are to trust the unknowable. To stop. To kneel. To give it all up. And try again tomorrow.
Please don’t be mistaken by my words. What I am not saying is that we need to stop thinking. What I am not saying is that the brain is our enemy. But what I am saying, is that the kingdom of God flips the thing on its head. Because the first becomes last. And the children know best. And the God of the universe goes searching for you. And for me. The economy of God just doesn't make sense. And as much as my brain may want to justify it and apprehend it-- at the end of the day I just can't. Because when I lay my head on the pillow at night, the love of God calls me back. No matter how far I may have wandered that day.
So yes, in spite of emotionally-manipulative television, I am a rational person. So why do I pray? Why do I believe, even though I know better? I pray because the love of God surpasses my understanding. Because the love of God moved beyond my doubts. Because the love of God races after one lost sheep-- this one lost sheep-- and says, "Welcome Home."