Summary: How should we respond to the lost?
When a “99” Isn’t Good Enough
How many of you can remember your school days? How many of you would be satisfied with a 99 on your exam? For some of us, we would rejoice at the seventy and one, no less with ninety and nine. But how does God see 99 percent? This parable shows what God thinks about the manner.
Exposition of the Text
The Parable of the Lost Sheep is one of three used to challenge the attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees who were murmuring that Jesus was teaching the tax collectors and immoral persons whom they considered to be the riff-raff of society. In this was also a tinge of jealousy. Why wasn’t Jesus teaching them? After all, they were diligently trying to keep the Law of Moses. If anyone deserved Jesus’ attention, it was them. But not only was Jesus not paying attention to them, he was paying attention the very worst in society.
Jesus uses these three parables to address the situation. It is interesting to watch the progression of numbers. There were 100 sheep, ten coins, and two sons. In each of the parables, one of the group was lost. In each of these parables, that which was lost represents the very tax collectors and sinners that Jesus was teaching. In each parable, that which was not lost remained. This represents the scribes and Pharisees who complained to Jesus that they were being overlooked. The emphasis of these parables is on the lost and the need to seek them out with the intention of reuniting them. This is what Jesus did in coming from Heaven. Jesus is the shepherd of the first parable, the woman in the second, and the father in the third parable. The rejoicing shows the proper reaction to finding the lost, and attitude that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has when the lost returns.
In today’s parable, we are introduced to a shepherd. The Pharisees and Scribes would understand this well as representing God. They could quote the 23rd Psalm which begins with “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Old Testament is full of comparison of God to the care of a shepherd. What they did not realize or accept is that this shepherd was directly in front of them.
So this probably caught and held the attention of the Scribes and Pharisees. As sheep herding was common in Israel as well as in many other places, the tax collectors and sinner people, so labeled by their detractors, would also understand. They were also interested to see how Jesus would react to the charges.
Jesus tells them the story of the shepherd. He was missing one of his sheep. Domestic sheep are incredibly dependent animals who could not survive in the wild. The fact that this sheep was alone in the desert meant that it was certain to perish before long. There were wild animals to contend with, sparse grazing, and intense heat in day and cold by night, and unsafe or rushing waters from flash floods to contend with. Domestic sheep are very nearsighted with short legs. They cannot see danger, no less run from it.
Some would tell the shepherd to chill. After all, did he not still have 99 sheep? And sheep breed quickly enough, so it wouldn’t take long to replace it. This would be the view of a hireling, not of a true shepherd. For a shepherd, a 99 is not good enough. The true shepherd puts himself at risk for the sheep. He must go out and find it, and would have not rest until it was found.
So the shepherd went out and searched until the lost sheep was found. He was so glad that he simply did not lead it home. He carried it home on his shoulders. Then he calls his friends together to rejoice with him. The lost sheep was found, and this was cause for celebration. The same was true in the other parables where the lost coin and prodigal son were found. The third parable culminates with the throwing of a great feast which shows the attitude of God towards the return of the lost. In Luke’s Gospel, there seems to be a feast every time a sinner comes to the Lord. This is the attitude the Scribes and Pharisees should have had towards Jesus’ outreach to the tax collectors and sinners. Instead, they took the attitude of the older son in the third parable. They would not rejoice with God. This implies that even though they were formally at home in body that they were lost souls themselves.
This might seem like a strange sermon to preach on Mother’s Day. However, Jesus later on in Luke weeps for Jerusalem and compares Himself to a mother hen calling to her chicks to find safety under her wings. Even here, He was seeking the lost in Jerusalem and was coming to lay down His life for His lost sheep.