The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 15:3-7....
So he [Jesus] 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? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 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."
Where do you picture yourself in this story? Are you the shepherd who has lost one of his sheep? Are you one of the ninety-nine, already in the fold, whom the shepherd leaves to find his lost sheep? Or are you that one lost sheep whom the shepherd leaves everything to find, whom he puts on his shoulders and rejoices over?
Jesus told this parable to the Pharisees. And as Kenneth Bailey has written, "A Pharisee owning a hundred sheep would hire a shepherd. he would lose them all rather than wander into the wilderness after them ... No educated man would wander into the wilderness for any purpose."
Thus Jesus, in a subtle way, rebuked the Pharisees for their lack of active love towards those whom the Pharisees considered more sinful and more undesirable than themselves. The Pharisees, as religious leaders, should have been the shepherds of Israel. Instead, the Pharisees were like the shepherds whom the Lord rebuked through the prophet Ezekiel, they only took care of themselves and not the flock. They failed to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, and bind up the injured. They failed to bring back the strays or search for the lost. (Ezekiel 34)
Yet, telling this parable, Jesus issued more than just a rebuke to the Pharisees, he also issued an invitation. It is as if Jesus said to them, "The shepherd sought the lost. I seek the lost and so should you." I believe Jesus invites each one of us, who are his followers, to be involved in seeking the lost.
Is there someone you know, who is lost spiritually, emotionally, or physically, whom you could go out and find today, lovingly put on your shoulders, and bring home?
Or maybe you are that lost sheep. If so, you need to know that Jesus loves you more than you could possibly imagine. He is the good shepherd. He is coming after you to bring you home. He wants to put you on his shoulders and rejoice over you.
I imagine that if those 99 sheep already in the sheepfold had been human beings, they would have been resentful of the shepherd leaving them to go after the lost sheep. I wonder, have you ever been resentful of a pastor who spends more time with new people in the church, or more time with people outside the church, than he or she does with you, a long term member? Is your resentment justified? What attitude might this parable, and the parable of the prodigal son that follows it, suggest that God wants you to have toward the lost, and toward your shepherd?