Today's Lectionary Text
Matthew 18:10-1410 “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
If you grew up in a church, the parable of the lost sheep is one you know well. We often preach about, it’s the subject of art in our sanctuaries, and teach about in Sunday School--complete with a paper cutout Jesus and paper cutout sheep on a flannel board if you were a child back in the day. A parable of a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to find one that is lost is in both Matthew and Luke, but the parables are different and are a part of different contexts.
In Luke 15, Jesus is speaking to “tax collectors and sinners“ (NRSV) with a group of Pharisees and scribes looking on and grumbling. The lost sheep represents a sinner who repents, and the parable is the beginning of the teaching the leads to the parable of the Prodigal Son.
In today’s passage from Matthew, Jesus has gathered his disciples around him, and is teaching about children. He tells them God doesn’t want to see one child lost.
A congregant asked me about this parable once, and the question really hits home in the context of Matthew. The question was, “Why would a shepherd leave 99 sheep unprotected and search for one? Couldn’t he lose more than the one by the time he returns?” For a person who attends church regularly, they would see themselves with the 99, and that seems to be a reasonable question.
The answer lies in first century agriculture but speaks to us today. The disciples would have understood how shepherds worked and lived. They typically did not work alone; four or five would work together to care for their combined flock. A shepherd who left his flock to search for one lost sheep did not leave his animals exposed to danger; he left them in the care of his colleagues.
That reminds me of the power of being connected to a community of faith. A group to walk with together on this journey of faith can provide us with a community where we will raise children together, celebrate life’s joys together, and support one another as we grieve.
We see Jesus as the Good Shepherd. If we are part of a community of faith, at different times we may be a shepherd, one of the 99, or we may even wander off. But we will have people around us to guide us, nurture us, bring us back to the fold if that’s what we need, we can live as the flocks Jesus envisioned, where not even one little one is lost.
-- Pastor Michael Turner
Prayer for Reflection
Holy God, we thank you for the gift of others around us who are living as follower of Jesus. We pray that you guide us, protect us, and encourage us to work together to bring about your kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.
This Week's Lectionary
This Week's Liturgical Color