It is a fairly well known story, even to those who didnt have to colour in pictures of sheep during sunday school. The story of the Lost sheep. Jesus, when being complained to by the Pharisees about who he spent time with, told them it, and it goes like this:
3 So Jesus told them this story: 4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away! (Luke 15: 3-7, New living version, taken from Bible Gateway.com)
What this, and the two other remaining parables in this chapter of Luke illustrate is something about God. Something about what God is like is described to us by Jesus. And what is God like?
God becomes the risky sheep owner, who leaves behind the ones he knows where they are (barely safe themselves on in the wilderness of isreali country fields) , to go alone and find the one that he doesnt know where it is. God is shown to leave those he knows, to take action to find those apart from the community.
I wonder what the 99 felt – when their owner left them? – couldnt hear his voice, or smell his scent- would any inquisitive sheep tag along- following their leader in the path of finding the lost, being protective or inquisitive- taking a risk themselves.
A few years ago I penned this piece on ‘Dancing with the Hide and Seek God, in Mission: A post i was reminded of as a I rethought this parable. See, for the ‘found’ – God becomes intentionally absent, he leaves them to act for and with the lost, the action of God is elsewhere- and for those who want to act with God – he is ahead, he is channeling a path, creating opportunities, and encouraging an action through an emptiness of his non active presence in the place of the found. To act with God, in the picture of the lost sheep, is to be as focussed on being active in the process of searching, and finding God active looking for the alone sheep. To Join in with the risk taking acts of God. God, who is concerned about losing 1%, that he calls out in the wilderness and hopes for responses to that call.
What is God like, and what does that mean we are called to do in continued action with him – to leave conformity, leave comfort, and follow God already prompting and already at work with others.
When the sheep is found, he isnt reprimanded, he is carried. It is only Luke that infers the sinfulness of the lost, from the parable- Jesus describes that man (a picture of God) just carries a sheep home on his shoulders and brings it to the rest of the community. Those who have been isolated, need carrying. Those wondering are to be lifted and receive the strength and support of others, and loved back into community. Luke throughout his Gospel is shows the inclusiveness of Jesus to those unexpected to be – so here its a slight on the pharisees, and their sinfulness.
The physicality of the actions reminded me of being involved in the kind of youthwork for the last 15 years that hasnt focussed on the ‘found’ young people – but to be involved in walking and meeting young people in their lost spaces, places of feeling alone and ‘lost’ to the church. There is nothing more spiritual that connecting deeply with someone in a place and space where Gods prompting and provoking is evident. The prompting with God is that he loves beyond the known, and those already feeling ‘included’ and ‘part’- he leaves them to love others. This parable is a challenge to expand a vision of God and realise that Gods priorities reflected in this parable are the one. If church growth is about the numbers game – then the 99% arent important – one is. God shaped mission is about risky love for others, risky love for the world, risky love that requires us to do the same.
Theres nothing comfortable about doing mission with the risk taking God. There may even be curious or questioning looks from the other 98, as we follow the coat tails of God at work.