“What man of you, having a hundred sheep,
if he has lost one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country,
and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”
– Jesus to the Pharisees “The Lost Sheep” – (Luke 15:4)
As Jesus taught the tax collectors and sinners gathered around Him, the Pharisees began to mutter to themselves about His open association with those deemed “unclean” according to the Jewish religious code. The parable of the lost sheep was Jesus’ defense of His welcoming of sinners.
Using a demeaning choice of words for the Jewish culture, Jesus compared the Pharisees to the lowest rank in the social class: the shepherd. The people in Jesus’ day knew that when a sheep went astray, the keeper was left no other choice of action except to search until he found it. The question was not “if”, but “when” he would find it. The safety of the remaining ninety-nine took second place to the all-consuming task of saving the one.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that just like sheep, we too have all gone astray. Yet God, in His grace and goodness, set out into the wilderness to seek the stubborn heart that had betrayed Him, and to restore His loving fellowship to the one who had turned his back. A humiliating task? Yes. But God comes not merely as the lowly Shepherd, but also as the Shepherd-King.
Christ’s mission on earth was to “seek and to save that which is lost,” a task that culminated in our lives the moment when He found us in our wilderness wanderings. This search and rescue assignment has been entrusted to us as well. The grace and mercy that we have been shown must be the same grace and mercy we show to others, even those who may have betrayed and hurt us in the past. We must be filled with the Shepherd’s love and be actively seeking out the lost, scared, and stubborn heart that has turned to its own way.
The shepherd left the ninety-nine in search for one lost sheep. Jesus abandoned the table of the “righteous” Pharisees to eat with the soul-sick people that needed a spiritual doctor. We, in turn, must renounce the luxury of our Christian subculture to venture out into the dark unknown where the lost and hurting live. The comfort of staying with the ninety-nine is no excuse for avoiding the wilderness where the soul of one may be perishing.