Jesus used many parables during His ministry to teach us deep truths about God’s kingdom. He also used daily situations as comparisons to show us more about His character (for example, He pictured Himself as the Good Shepherd so we could have a first glimpse at His amazing love).
And one of the most beloved and known parable He told is the one about the lost sheep:
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:3-7)
There are a few things that fascinate me about this parable.
First, with the two initial sentences Jesus describes a situation that seems to be very natural for the people who were listening to Him: no matter how many sheep you have, if you lose one, you will go after it, simple as that.
And if a regular shepherd goes after one single lost sheep, why wouldn’t our Good Shepherd goes after a single lost soul that has wandered away? He wants us to know that He will always go after the sinner in order to bring him back, no matter what.
Second, He doesn’t mention why the sheep has gone missing.
Maybe the sheep wandered away from the flock and got lost. Maybe it followed another animal, one that wasn’t part of the flock, and it didn’t know its way back. Maybe it was a rebellious sheep, that wanted to be independent, and it just fled.
Jesus doesn’t say how the sheep went missing. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. He will go after His sheep no matter what reason made them go away. Even if the sheep chose to do so.
Third, He says that when the shepherd finds his sheep, he brings it back on his shoulders.
The sheep was probably scared and exhausted. It was probably hungry and thristy. It probably didn’t have the energy for the walk back.
The shepherd could have forced it to walk back to teach it a lesson. Make spank it a little or make its life miserable so it would learn never to wander away again. But the loving shepherd doesn’t think twice: he carries the sheep back on his shoulders. No second thoughts, no punishments, no “I told you so” speech.
In fact, when he gets back, he celebrates the fact that he found his lost sheep. And at the end of the parable, Jesus compares the lost sheep to a sinner, so we can associate that beautiful loving story with something that is even closer to our daily lives: a person who needs to be rescued from sin.
Jesus portrayed Himself as the Good Shepherd who goes after the missing sheep, and he also expects us, His “flock”, to show the same kind of behavior towards the lost sinner: be loving and understanding and pursue them, and celebrate when they finally are brought back.
Jesus’ mercy is greater than anything we might do, and His forgiveness is always available for the sinner who repents and wants to return.
Heaven rejoices with the missing sheep that was found. And so must we.