The Parable of the Lost Sheep1Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Here Jesus begins the three “lost” parables; the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. All three parables are responses to the accusation, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees considered themselves clean and everyone else unclean. Anyone who did not conform to their strict standards of behavior were considered sinners. Of course, now we know that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), but at that time, Paul’s letter to the Romans hadn’t been written yet. The Pharisees considered themselves to be righteous. They were so “righteous” that they not only refused to socialize with “sinners,” but they would not teach sinners the scriptures.
The accusation they made against Jesus regarding eating with sinners was, on one level, an understandable one given the culture. When you broke bread with someone in that culture, you were saying, “These are my people.” Breaking bread together was what families did, what compatriots did. That’s part of what made Judas’ betrayal of Jesus such outrageous treachery, because he betrayed Jesus after having eaten with him. So because Jesus reclined at the table with sinners, in the eyes of the Pharisees, that made him a sinner as well. And Jesus didn’t just associate with people who didn’t follow all the rules that the Pharisees did. He ate with tax collectors, who were Roman collaborators and traitors. He ate with the dregs of society.
But what was the result of Jesus doing these things? The tax collectors and “sinners” gathered around to hear him. People will be more likely to want to hear about Jesus from us if we befriend them first. Unfortunately, many Christians have the same attitude as the Pharisees did. How welcoming are we to those who don’t look, act or talk like us?
3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Having spent my life in the big city, I haven’t been around sheep much. But anyone who’s seen the movie Babe knows one thing; Sheep are stupid. No animal wanders away from the flock more easily than a sheep. Once they’ve gone astray, they’ll bleat for the flock while running in the opposite direction from the flock. A lost sheep isn’t quite as helpless as a lost coin, but it’s pretty helpless. Do you know anyone who stupidly wandered away from God, heedless of the harm they were doing to themselves? Have you ever been that person? I have.
A few years ago, one of our dogs got lost. We had two dogs at the time, a Golden Retriever who was very smart, and a Lab/Border Collie mix who was not as smart. My wife and I were in California for a wedding, and got the word from our house sitter that the Lab had gotten out of the yard and was lost. He’s black, and it was at night, so there was no way to find him. He was freaked out and would not come when called, especially by strangers. Needless to say, we were frantic. When we got home the next day, he still had not been found. We searched shelters, put up flyers, and searched the neighborhood calling his name, Ziggy, to no avail. He was lost for three days, but managed to stay alive long enough to seek out the smell of food coming from a nearby restaurant. Someone at the restaurant coaxed him with food and water, read his tags and called us.
I can’t help but think about that incident when I read this parable. Like the lost sheep, Ziggy was too stupid to simply come home on his own. He was hungry, scared, and completely wigged out. He was not himself. Though we were grateful for the dog who had not run away, we were sick about the one who had, and spent all of our time trying to find him. When we finally did, there was great joy and relief at our house. In the same way, while I was stupidly wandering away from God, he sought me with greater effort and heartbreak than I sought Ziggy. And God’s joy at finding me was greater than mine was at finding my lost dog. #bearingwitness