Meditations on the “Lost Sheep”
3 So He told them this parable, saying, 4 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ 7 I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
- The lost sheep is “not here”
We know where the faithful sheep are. Every Sunday, we stand up to preach and…there they are. But we don’t know where the lost sheep are. We don’t know what they are doing. We may not even know their faces or names.
It takes effort to locate, name, and eventually save the lost sheep: they are “not here”!
- The Shepherd has to “go after” them
Faithful sheep come to the shepherd: but the shepherd must get up and go to the lost sheep. Whether it is across the world, or down the street, a Good Shepherd needs to leave the 99 sheep, and search for the one who is lost.
- The lost sheep are hard to find
The Shepherd does not stumble upon the lost sheep, slumbering just outside of the fold. Rather, he must “go after them until he finds them.” Lost sheep take effort to locate!
Oceans must be crossed, social barriers broken, languages learned, baggage and past hurts need to be waded through, and long patient conversations must be had. Often, with no immediate fruits. The work of the Good Shepherd is very, very hard work.
- Lost sheep take time!
It is hard work to be a shepherd: nobody is denying that. But at least when you have 99 sheep before you, you can legitimize a day’s work. But the relentless pursuit of the one lost sheep may entail days and weeks and even years of exhausting work, with no sure promise of success.
- Lost sheep are costly
Faithful sheep can support their shepherd. Also, there is a certain cost-benefit logic to shepherding faithful sheep. If each of the faithful sheep tithe a small amount, they can pay for the fold and for their shepherd: but the lost sheep neither cares, nor is able to support the efforts of the pursuing shepherd. And so if the lost sheep is to be found, the shepherd needs to either support him/herself in some way, or else “rob” the faithful sheep (2 Cor. 11:8) to find the lost sheep.
- The lost sheep are jealousy-makers
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the story ends with the Faithful Son being consumed with jealousy. “Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”
It is not fair that the lost sheep cost so much more than faithful sheep. It is not fair that the shepherds leave the faithful sheep to pursue after those who aren’t even interested. It is not fair that they give so little, and take so much. Lost sheep can make faithful sheep jealous.
- Lost sheep are precious
The entire point of the string of parables that Jesus gives in Luke 15 (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the Prodigal Son) is that “it is worthy it.”
Yes, it’s a lot of work. No, it’s not fair. Yes, it is a gratuitous “waste” of time. No, there’s no guarantee of success. So why do it?
Well, imagine you are a rancher and you realize that one of your calves is missing. What is on your mind? 99 head of cattle safely in the stall, or the one lost in the pastures? Aren’t you going to do all that you can to find that calf and bring it home?
What if you were a young bride that lost her wedding ring? Would it comfort you that you had a whole box of jewelry? No. You would retrace your steps, call your friends, sweep the entire house, and not stop until that precious band of gold was found.
What if you were a father with two sons, one faithful and the other following a path of self-destruction. Would you say, “Oh well. One out of two isn’t so bad” and settle in to life with your faithful son? No. You know you would be waking up every morning to think of that lost son, and pray for his return.
- The Lost Sheep is worth it all
“When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:5-7)
We serve a really big God. His joys and His sorrows are weighty, and beyond us.
And yet in this, we can make Him not just smile, but rejoice.
When a lost sheep comes home, God throws a party!