The first-century audience to whom Jesus was teaching was comprised mainly of peasants, tradesmen, farmers, shepherds, the unemployed and the offscouring of society. They were about the only ones hungering for a change because they lived with very little hope or any sense of significance. The wealthy ruling class, political and religious aristocracy just used them as a tax base, as victims of their greed. But, in reality, they did not matter as individuals.
The main reason they left their hovels, sick beds and places of employment to gather around the young rabbi from Nazareth was because his words and actions communicated a worth they had never experienced before. As he claimed to be speaking God’s heart, Jesus told stories, called “parables,” about possible events in the lives of these peasants that conveyed a deeper moral and spiritual message.
In Luke 15, Jesus was being accused by his detractors of associating with sinners and the “wrong crowd.” He responded to this criticism by telling a story about a shepherd who discovered at the end of the day that one of his 100 sheep was missing. He left the 99 safe in the care of someone else and went back out to search for the one lost sheep. When he found it, the shepherd put the lost one on his shoulders and carried it home. He concluded the story by saying it illustrates the value heaven places on one person who repents and returns to a right relationship with God.
Every individual, peasant or priest listening to that illustration understood that God placed such a premium on each person that He would go to any length to rescue them from any circumstance or condition that caused them to be estranged from Him. While they might not be valued in their culture, they certainly mattered to God. As the shepherd was not content with 99 percent of flock safe in the fold at night, neither is God satisfied until every individual is safe in His arms. Simon Peter, who was listening to stories like that, would later write in 2 Peter 3:9 that God was not willing that any should perish but that all individuals should come to repentance.
The people not only heard Jesus teach about the worth of each person, but they also saw it demonstrated by his actions. The next person Jesus met was the most important person in his life. There are at least 42 times in the record of his ministry where Jesus ministered to one person. Some of his most famous statements, like John 3:16, were spoken to an audience of one. Sometimes he was occupied in travel or teaching when someone would either cry out for help or touch him as an act of faith. He would stop and minister to that individual before proceeding. That’s how he met blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), Zacchaeus (Luke 19), and the woman with a hemorrhage (Mark 5:24). He saw one widow among the throng giving her offering in the temple (Mark 12:42) and heard the prayer of a desperate sinner above all the insincere chants of others (Luke 18:13).
The search for significance is an on-going quest, and it is manifested in the many ways we strive to be noticed. There is a native need to be valued and appreciated by someone. The most hopeless concept a person can entertain is to live a meaningless life and not be missed when they die.
By his life and illustrations, Jesus is still teaching us that regardless of the size of the multitude, God still places a high value on each person. He cares about the smallest details of our lives, our potential, our failures, our hurts, our health, our fears and our destiny.
The best way to experience this personal and divine touch is to sincerely ask God for forgiveness, guidance and grace like millions of others. You will have His personal attention.
Loren A. Yadon is pastor of New Life Fellowship of Boise.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.