The Janitor

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

September 10, 2022

Scripture – Luke 15:1-10 (NRSV)

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he 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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and 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.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”


Whether we got lost by ourselves or whether the systems of society lost us does not matter to the Lord. What he’s interested in is finding us, saving us, and rejoicing with us.


Just a few months ago, in Lent, the lectionary brought us to Luke 15:11-32, the famous story of the Prodigal Son. At that point, I noted that Jesus does not tell that parable in a vacuum; it follows on from two other parables Jesus tells in response to questioning about why he eats with tax collectors and sinners.

There was, he says, a lost sheep and a lost coin. The shepherd sought the sheep very diligently, and the woman the coin, and when they found what was lost they rejoiced greatly. Even so, says Jesus, the angels will rejoice over those people who are lost and are found. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether the people got lost through their own actions, as the sheep would have, or whether they got lost accidentally through no fault of their own, as the coin would have. Either way, all the hosts of heaven were thrilled when they came home. (So, if this video I shared in March is any indication, was the sheep.)

Last November, I was one of the speakers at Karam Forum in Ft. Worth, Texas. Other speakers talked about how early church, medieval, and Reformation leaders dealt with issues of racial and economic justice and human flourishing; my task was to discuss how this happened in the 18th century Wesleyan movement. (As long-time readers of Life for Leaders may know, I am an Episcopal priest, but I grew up Methodist and my Ph.D. is in Methodist history.)

Anyway, Charlie Self and I made our presentations about the resources which John Wesley’s theology can provide for dealing with poverty and illness and conflict, and then the hosts convened a panel discussion. And near the end of that discussion a moment happened I’ll never forget. (You can watch it here.) Someone asked, related to churches helping people in need, “How do we ensure that the churches aren’t simply serving as janitors cleaning up after the consequences of [modern] dislocation?”

You can hear my whole answer on the video, but it boiled down to this: sometimes what people in need most need is a janitor. I said: “You know if you’re sick and you throw up, you don’t need theology. You don’t need a lecture about how you can get out of poverty, you need a janitor; and it’s okay if sometimes we’re the janitor.”

Yesterday, we talked about how even those saints we most revere came before Jesus, like Paul did, trusting solely in his mercy and not in their own merit. It’s worth keeping those words in mind as we face these parables. Whether we got lost by ourselves or whether the systems of society lost us does not matter to the Lord. What he’s interested in is finding us, saving us, and rejoicing with us. Even if it means that he has to—metaphorically (Luke 15:8)—be the janitor.


When have you been lost?

When have you been found?

Who can you go and find and bring to Jesus? How?


You may want to watch the whole video from Karam Forum as you think about how to work for justice and human flourishing.

You may also want to worship through song. It’s hard to improve on “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” in relationship to the parables of Luke 15. Here is a different arrangement than the one I shared with you in March.

Finally, I am aware that today is the 21st anniversary of 9/11. Please feel free to read my devotions from last year’s 20th anniversary (9/10/2021 and 9/11/2021) and observe a moment of silence in memory of those who were lost.


Lord, I am lost. Find me, save me, and rejoice with me. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Where Shall I Go?

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Jennifer Woodruff Tait

Editorial Coordinator

Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the

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