Deborah Beach Giordano
© September 12, 2016
Luke 15:1–6 ~ as told by Deborah
By this time cheats and sneaks and scoundrels and people who only went to church on Christmas and Easter were coming to hear Jesus. And the priests and the puritans grumbled among themselves, “This fellow welcomes sinners — and even eats with them!”
So he told them a story: “If you had a one hundred sheep and one went missing, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go off in search of the lost one — and keep hunting until you found it? And, having found it, carry it back on your shoulders, singing and skipping with joy — and, when you get home, call all of your friends and say, ‘I’m throwing a party because I found my lost sheep!’”
A Not-So-Obvious Answer
Jesus said, “If you owned a hundred sheep and one went missing, obviously you’d immediately go off in search of the one — and leave the other ninety-nine by themselves in the middle of nowhere, where they would be prey to wolves and thieves and wandering off — wouldn’t you?”
Well, no, actually, you wouldn’t.
Not if you wanted to stay in the sheep business.
A Lousy Rancher
Years ago a delightful old gentleman told me that this parable convinced him that Jesus must have been a carpenter, “because no rancher would leave all those sheep unattended. What if a wolf attacked them,” Ed asked, “Or a storm came up and scattered the flock? Then you’d be out hunting for a lot more than just the one.”
He was right; what Jesus was saying — what he was claiming to be an obvious response to the situation — was absurd. It wouldn’t make any sense to risk losing most of your flock while off in a possibly futile search for one missing animal. No, the lost sheep was a goner. Sad, perhaps (especially for that particular sheep), but that’s just how things go sometimes.
So I guess Jesus didn’t know sheep?
Think About It
But that can’t be true. Although the Lord wasn’t a sheep owner, he would have known a lot about sheep. They were a staple of first century Near Eastern life.
Every spring the hillsides throughout Galilee would bloom white with newborn lambs; fleece-muffled bells chimed as flocks were herded along the roads; woolly faces peered out from barns and sheds and market stalls. Jesus would have known about sheep, all right.
So why did he say such a crazy thing? Why would he say that everyone who was listening to him would most assuredly do something that, in reality, none of them would do?
Perhaps he wanted to make them think. Even now, in lands and ages far removed from an agrarian economy, when we hear Jesus’ words we are pulled up short: “What? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Ears to Hear
The practical-minded among Jesus’ listeners would immediately discount as clearly wrong-headed his notion of what was important. What mattered was that the majority of the stock was safe and protected; the occasional loss, while unfortunate, was to be expected. Wolves happen.
They would write off this Jesus as readily as they would write off that lost sheep: deluded or confused, out of step with the multitude; a fellow who simply didn’t know how the world works.
But some would hear the story from a different perspective. Some would hear and understand. Some would know what it feels like to be excluded, abandoned, forgotten, alone.
Some would know that one, singular, lost sheep quite well.
Crying in the Wilderness
His heart filled with divine compassion, Jesus responded to voices that others failed to hear; the cries of weary souls, “I’m here. I’m hurting. No one seems to care.”
For the Lord there was nothing of greater importance than to find the lost and the abandoned and bring them safely back home. Regardless of their “market value.”
This story is as powerful now as it was in those days — perhaps more so. Our culture glorifies wealth, strength, youth, beauty; discounting the weak, the impoverished, the ill, the aged as unimportant. And how readily we write off as “a loss” those who have failed, or fallen, or gone astray.
And how deaf we are to the cries of the lost and the forsaken.
And how lonely it can be when we are hurting and no one seems to care.
The Truth, Revealed
What was extraordinary to many of his hearers seemed obvious to Jesus: “Certainly you would go out in search of that lost sheep. And you would keep looking until you found it.”
Was there ever a more telling difference between how God is and what we are like? Somebody’s hurting, somebody’s lost: DO SOMETHING. Reach out, make a connection, find out if they need help; do what you can. Don’t just write them off.
People get all excited about the Christian use of the term “sin,” but what clearer definition than this: having our priorities completely screwed up. We assign value to people based on what they can do or how much money they have or whether they agree with our politics — rather than simply caring for them, utterly and unconditionally, as God cares for us: that’s sin.
The Good News is this: the extravagant, Extraordinarily Caring Source of all that is loves us unconditionally. God hears the cry of a single “lost” sheep out of the multitude. Each and every one of us is of ultimate, irreplaceable value to our Creator, who will move heaven and earth to bring us home.
Jesus concluded the story of The Found Sheep with the words, “I’m telling you: there is more delight in God’s heart when one soul is restored than over ninety-nine who have never roamed.”
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
This Week’s Suggested Spiritual Exercise
Who is lost to you?