Sunday, September 12, 2010

Losing Sheep

Luk 15:1 One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, "This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!" So Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them---what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbors together and say to them, 'I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!' In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.

The Ancient Israelites were a pastoral people. Both sheep and goats were kept for meat and milk as well as wool or hair. Most peasant families would own a few sheep - making shepherding a common occupation. Often flocks were moved from one area to another during the year. Flocks based in places on the Judean ridge (like Bethlehem or Tekoa) would be moved further down the steep slope into the Judean desert towards the Dead Sea when those areas had received rain and/or runoff allowing some grass to grow. So shepherds would move with their sheep in search of water.

Jesus tells a story about a shepherd and his sheep.

This is a story about the shepherd who has just moved his sheep from the desert floor to the high ridges in Judea. He had 100 sheep and he carefully guides them up into the hills. The rains have fallen and they are able to leave the hot desert regions and climb past Ramah, Bethel, Mispah, Shiloh….

He is probably not alone: all the shepherds are doing the same. And finally they arrive where the new grass has begin to grow: and they are able to let his sheep graze free. And they wander off to enjoy the newly shooting grasses.

That evening the shepherd calls to his sheep - in fact each shepherd calls his sheep: and they come, because they have been trained since their birth to respond to the voice of their own shepherd. Never call sheep stupid – they might be easily panicked – but they know their shepherd’s voice.

He has built a circular fence of thorn branches and he herds them inside. This will protect them against jackals at night. He will soon makes his bed across the opening, and light his evening fire. But first he counts his sheep. And discovers that one is missing! And so he faces a choice: The shepherd can decide that the ninety-nine are more important than the one. “I need to protect the ninety-nine – I will just have to write off that lost sheep.” This is a good business decision. It is called writing off losses and is the kind of decision often made:

Not long after Jesus told this story this is in fact what happened to him: John’s Gospel tells us about the high priest Caiaphas who argues that Jesus must be killed in order to keep the peace: “Don’t you understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (John 11:50).

In other words, Caiaphas and his kind say, sometimes it is okay, even necessary, to sacrifice someone or something for some greater cause:
This is very familiar in our society today:
It is OK to sacrifice one small business principle in order to make a profit.
It is OK to twist one little truth in order to win an election.
It is OK to ignore one small commandment of God in order to remain popular with society.
It is OK to tell one small member of the family to get lost in order to have some peace in the home.

But the story is not finished:
Luk 15:4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them---what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it.
Jesus says it is not OK to sacrifice one small sheep for the sake of many.
Remember this the next time you are tempted to sacrifice a small principle of your faith for expediency:
Today it will be a small sin – tomorrow it will be your soul!

1 comment:

Barbara Shallue said...

I love this! So true! When my kids were small, I refused to let them lie about their age at the movies just to save a dollar or two. I know so many other parents who didn't see anything wrong with it, but then were dismayed when their kids lied about other things. Not that mine didn't ever tell lies (I have human babies, after all), but at least I knew in my heart that I'd set an example for them that would nag on their consciences. I hoped. Too many are willing to bend the rules thinking they are an exception.