September 16, 2019
Scripture Luke 15:1-7
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Luke 15:3-4, 7 NRSV
Few of us have ever kept sheep, milked sheep, herded sheep, or sheared sheep. But, one thing is clear: They are pretty helpless from danger. They require a lot of attention and protection. As long as there are sheep, very likely the owner will need shepherds. This is at the heart of the parable that Jesus told his followers about the joy of salvation.
If we look over the scripture, we notice that a single shepherd is caring for 100 sheep. That was a pretty big task by itself. But, one is lost. The shepherd leaves the remaining flock of ninety-nine sheep and goes looking for the single lost sheep. Against all odds, he found it!
Of course, he is overjoyed and shares his good news. What Jesus does not say, is that the remaining ninety-nine sheep are intact and unharmed. They were left behind by the shepherd, but no misfortune occurred.
Soon, we learn that the lost sheep represents a newly redeemed person, who has repented of their sins. God and all of heaven are overjoyed! The remaining herd are already among the righteous. They do not trigger the same response. So, that seems pretty puzzling, doesn’t it?
Jesus does not condemn the righteous, of course. In the parable, the flock of ninety-nine sheep survive untouched despite exposure, the presence of predators, and (very likely) impending darkness. Apparently, they are getting along just fine. And, maybe that is as it should be for those of us who are pushing along as followers of Christ. Perhaps, our moment of celebration has already come and gone at our baptism, our confirmation, our marriage, or the birth of a child: things that turn our lives around.
Jesus doesn’t state this, and there is no record of the reaction of those listening to the parable. Like the crowd around Jesus, sheep usually are pretty quiet, unless they have something to communicate to each other. If sheep could clap and show emotion, perhaps they responded in kind to God’s reaction in heaven: with sheer, unbridled joy.