3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I 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.
The basis for this parable is in the exchange that Jesus has had with the Pharisees. Jesus spend His time with people who were rejected by the Jewish religious and nationalist cultures had deemed undesirables, outcasts, and traitors. He went into their houses. He ate meals with them. He treated them with compassion.
This prompted the Pharisees to comment negatively that He welcomed sinners and ate with them. To them, He was identifying with the sinners.
So Jesus tells three parables in response to their comment.
The first is about a lost sheep.
A shepherd has a flock of 100 sheep. These aren’t rams with large horns that can put up a fight. These are domesticated sheep. They’re a herd animal. Their only defense is the herd and the shepherd. So when one of these sheep wanders off from the flock, it is in danger of being caught by a predator.
Understandably, the shepherd is very concerned about it. It’s in danger, and losing even one sheep is a major loss financially for him. He makes a choice not to abandon the animal to certain death, so he goes out to find it.
And when he finds it, he rejoices. He doesn’t beat the tar out of the wayward animal. He doesn’t scream at it. He doesn’t reprimand the sheep. He rejoices. And he calls everyone to come and share in his joy.
Is that your image of God? When you stray, when you sin willfully or by failing to act, do you see God as a harsh taskmaster with a lash ready to start hitting you? Do you see Him like Zeus, sitting up on a cloud watching you holding a lightning bolt ready to fry you if you get out of line one more time?
Or do you see someone who is concerned for you? Who seeks you out and wants to bring you back into the right path with rejoicing?
I would say that if we were honest, many of us would think of God as being more in line with the Pharisees here. We’d rewrite the parable with the shepherd cursing under his breath about that stupid sheep as he has to leave the flock again to go and find it. We’d have him stomping along the path getting angrier and angrier with each step until when he found the sheep, he’d give it a good thrashing. Maybe even break the legs of the sheep to keep it from wandering off, or even deciding right then and there that the best thing to do for both of them would involve having mutton for dinner and making a nice sheepskin coat.
That’s not the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd welcomes sinners and eats with them.