So, he told them this parable: “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? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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.
I got uncomfortable reading these words of Jesus the other day. Ordinarily I feel sort of warm and cozy thinking about the Shepherd heading off to seek the one wandering sheep. This is because I put myself in the place of that lost, alarmed, lonely lamb and imagine the tremendous relief I would experience when the Shepherd shows up to rescue me and lays me on his shoulders. Boy, would I ever!
But this time when I read Jesus’ words, I found myself in the place of the other 99 sheep. Hey, what are you doing? Abandoning all of us just to go after that one foolish sheep? What about us? We could use some care and attention and feeding and protecting here. How about a little rejoicing over us? It doesn’t make sense to the 99 of us in the fold that the Shepherd should put 1% of his attention on us and 99% on the 1 wandering sheep.
Jesus is issuing a deep challenge in this parable to the hearts of us his disciples. Are we mainly looking for God to care for us and meet all our needs, as we define and experience them? Are we basically using God? Can we trust that our “heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”? (Matthew 6:32-33)
Can we let our hearts be transformed and united with His? Can we be those friends who the Shepherd calls together and invites to rejoice with him over the lost sheep which is now found? Can we abandon worldly math which says God should apportion His favor on a per capita basis so that we 99 get our 99%, and then, of course, it is fine for the wandering 1 to get his 1%?
It is uncomfortable for me, and maybe for you, to say to the Father, ‘it’s OK, we have been found and we’ll be all right. We are glad you are focusing your concern on those away from the flock. We join you in your heart-longing for them. How can we help?’ This involves reapportioning our priorities personally and as the people of God (the sheep of his hand) from being exclusively, or even predominantly’ focused on ourselves to investing more in joining Jesus in his mission to bring the wandering ones home. And then being ready join in Him in rejoicing over the restored ones!