What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep. When he finds it, I tell you, he feels far happier over this one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost. In just the same way your Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost.
Now here’s a one of the very best of the best parables. It’s simple, concise, and easy to understand. Very little ambiguity. God doesn’t give up on us. In this story Jesus tells us that every single person is important to God. No one falls under the radar, ever. Even the weak and powerless. Even the unimportant. Even you and me. Even the children. Especially the children. It’s a beautiful expression of the love of God for each and every one of us.
I’m sure we’ve all felt like a lost sheep at one time or another. It’s a beautiful thing to know that God never gives up on any of us. It brings to mind the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
God is the shepherd who leads us and guides us through the journey of life. As a child I was required to memorize this psalm, and I always imagined myself as part of the flock of sheep that God was leading on life’s path. One time, during a prayer service, I had a vision that God doesn’t lead us as a flock. I saw him, personified as Jesus, leading each of us individually, personally, as though each of us were the only sheep. And that is indeed what the psalm says – the pronouns are singular, not plural. He leads me, not he leads us. It was revelatory to me to know that I’m not just another sheep in the flock, another brick in the wall. God is so big and mysterious that he can lead us all individually at the same time.
This scripture tells us what a healthy relationship with God should look like. God loves us, but his passion and compassion must never be a license for us to stray off and go our own way. It isn’t permission to exercise our independence, to go off on our own, to indulge our selfish self-interests. On Day 3 the devil tried to convince Jesus to jump off a cliff to force God to prove his love for Jesus. Jesus responds with the scripture, “Do to put the Lord your God to the test.” We must never take God’s love for granted. We should never assume that he will rescue us no matter what kind of trouble we get ourselves into. He wants to partner with us to make the world a better place. It’s not God’s intent to enter into an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship with us.
This scripture also tells us what a healthy society looks like. It tells us how God wants us all to treat the weak, the vulnerable, and the outcasts – those who had no power, no rights, and no resources. He doesn’t want us to throw them out, to leave them behind, to move on without them. God urges us to provide for and protect each and every one. We aren’t supposed to get mad because a sheep has wandered off. We are supposed to demonstrate concern. We are supposed to stop everything and do what we can to make the flock whole again by helping the lost and hurting. The kingdom of God can’t be established unless everyone is recognized and cared for. Ninety-nine sheep is not “close enough”. We should not rest until everyone is healed and provided for. When we have a heart like Jesus, we can’t have true joy when anyone is suffering. We are all connected, and in the Kingdom of God we are all joined together as a single happy, healthy flock living in unity (not uniformity) and harmony. This should be our societal goal and we should do everything we can to make this happen. We all sink or swim together.
God calls us to seek out those who are marginalized in society and do what we can to help them. For example, Christmas is a time of great joy for many, but for others it simply aggravates their misery. I’m glad that our church has a Blue Christmas service a few days before Christmas Day. It’s a service that is designed to comfort those who mourn, as well as those who are suffering from sickness or want. It’s a way of trying to wrap our arms around some of those people who feel separated from the rest of the flock during the holiday season. This parable also reminds of my sister’s advice that when you enter a room full of people that you don’t know, it’s a good idea to look for someone who is alone because you will probably make a friend. There are all sorts of ways of caring for those who are left out. We always need to be looking for those the quiet ones who are left out and alone and looking for a friend. And when we see a little one being left behind we must help them. We must not deny their existence or treat them like they are invisible or like they deserve their fate. We must do whatever we can to reach out to them, even if it’s expensive or inconvenient.
Some of what Jesus has to say can be harsh, and some of it can seem pretty cryptic unless you do a little study. But this one is easy to understand. It’s beautiful, comforting, inspiring, and motivating. God never stops seeking, he never gives up, he never lets go of us and he challenges us to do the same for others.
What does this scripture say to you?