“If a man owns a hundred sheep, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (Matthew 18:12)
Isn’t this one of the strongest images in the Bible? Jesus, the Good Shepherd, looking for the lost sheep. I understand why I’ve heard so many sermons on this.
The purpose of Jesus’ parables is to reveal what the kingdom of God is really like. So, what does this lost sheep parable reveal?
Firstly, that God has emotions; he feels concern and happiness. Secondly, God takes an active role in caring for his flock. Thirdly, God doesn’t want a single one to be lost. Fourthly, God greatly rejoices when a lost sheep is returned.
The way that Jesus tells this parable suggests that the shepherd’s response is obvious and expected — will he not, of course, leave the ninety-nine? In other parables where the characters often act in a way opposite to what they’re expected to do (for example, the good Samaritan, the father of the prodigal son), in this parable, we apparently anticipate the man to go looking for his lost sheep.
But if the sheep represent us, the people of God, what does it reveal about us? The thing I noticed is that even though the man leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one, he doesn’t leave them alone. They are left together on the hills where the man has led them, and they can enjoy the pastures and each other’s company.
For the sheep that don’t wander off, there is joy and peace in where they are. Sometimes I’ve wondered if maybe I need to wander off a little bit from God so that I can feel his love fully when he “finds” me again.
But I think I’m forgetting the value in the ninety-nine sheep around me, the flock that God has brought me to.
I believe that we’re all the lost sheep at some point (maybe more often than we realize), but I also think it’s easy to spend more time thanking God for being found when we were lost and not always thanking him for the community and blessings that we gain by remaining in his flock.
Lord, thank you that you care for us individually. Thank you also that the fellow believers around us are just as much a blessing from you as your own attention and care. Help us to fully appreciate the pastures you lead us to. Amen.