“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
“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.
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
I was lost. And I knew it. Paralyzed by confusion, I had no idea how to find my way back. I’d always had a great sense of direction, but it failed me now in every way. Being lost felt like being hidden and in some odd way that was comforting, but that comfort never lasted long. If I only knew the language of being found I would have spoken it, but it eluded me and I had no energy left to learn. I needed to be seen. I needed someone to risk finding me, risk stepping into that miry pit with me, unencumbered by the stench of my sin, and guide me back to the main road.
“A shepherd in charge of 100 sheep notices that one of his sheep has gone astray. What do you think he should do? Should the shepherd leave the flock on the hills unguarded to search for the lost sheep? God’s shepherd goes to look for that one lost sheep, and when he finds her, he is happier about her return than he is about the 99 who stayed put. Your Father in heaven does not want a single one of the tripped, waylaid, stumbling little ones to be lost.” -Matthew 18:12-14(VOICE)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin in Matthew and Luke’s Gospels illustrate the lavish Love of God found in a Savior willing to search for us until we are found. Whether it is one lost sheep who has wandered away from the sheepfold or a valuable lost coin gone missing, God has sent us One who sees us as inherently valuable who seeks to restore us as the Image-bearers that we are.
These parables can also be understood from a vantage point not only of what the Father is doing as the Good Shepherd and the searcher of the lost coin, but also in the example He is setting for us by relentlessly pursuing those who are lost. He’s showing us that we are not to forget the “tripped, waylaid, stumbling little ones.” They take many forms we may be familiar with: the addicted, the homeless, the poor, the marginalized, the abused. But they may also take the form of those less familiar: the corporate executive selling his soul to Wall Street, the stay-at-home Mom who feels unseen, the elderly suffering from loneliness, the college athlete who equates love with performance. The tripped, waylaid, and stumbling are closer than we realize.
These are parables of mercy.
Mercy speaks to us. It often calls out for reflection. We may be prompted by its glaring contradiction of our own hearts to ask: Do I really even care about one measly sheep? Would I care more if it were ninety-nine sheep? Twenty sheep perhaps?
Mercy may also make us aware of the dialogue of the heart: “I mean, she probably got lost because of her own doings. It’s her fault anyway. Why should I leave my comfort zone to help someone outside the fold fix their bad choices? Am I my sister or brother’s keeper?”
Mercy is messy.
Mercy takes time and patience.
Living a life of active Mercy requires us to count the costs of leaving our comfort for something far less familiar, calculated, and sure. It requires noticing the state of our heart, and the level of trust we need in Jesus to not only leave the comfort zone, but stay there until the lost is found.
“...each soul has its own value apart from all others. Jesus calls the people of His Kingdom to help the weak and the friendless, the small and the frail, the mute and the poor, the ugly and the disfigured.” -Commentary on the Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Voice Translation
Luke 15 begins with Jesus being ridiculed and condemned by the religious community for His love and compassion for “notorious sinners.”
“Jesus became increasingly popular among notorious sinners—tax collectors and other social outcasts. The Pharisees and religious scholars noticed this. “This man welcomes immoral people and enjoys their company over a meal!”- Luke 15:1-2 (The Voice)
Yet Jesus, the Truth, responds with these two parables and says, “This is how it is in heaven. They’re happier over one sinner who changes his way of life than they are over 99 good and just people who don’t need to change their ways of life.”- Luke15:7 (The Voice)
In this light, the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin become about restoring the lost and scorned sinner back into the family of God. All of us are sinners, but perhaps these stories speak not so much to believers who sin but to those children of God who have never been welcomed into the fold. Those who are far from God and not yet adopted into the family of God through Jesus.
There is a pattern in both of these parables: lose, search, find, rejoice. Something of great value is lost, a search begins, the lost is found, and then great rejoicing happens.
Sheep and coins were symbols of great value to Jesus’ original audience. These symbols were items His audience treasured and protected – they signified survival, livelihood, quality of life. Whether they walked away from the fold or found themselves lost due to another’s negligence, they were cherished, precious, loved. How they became lost wasn’t the point.Jesus valued these sinners far from the fold, lost in the abyss of sin and suffering.
They were the reason Jesus left the heavenly fold and why He’s searching for one coin when His Father has storehouses of plenty in heaven. Because sinners matter. Not just the ones that know they are sinners, but the ones who don’t and the ones who don’t care.
These parables speak to all of us who are lost:
The one who doesn’t want to be found.
The one who was drawn away and doesn’t know how they ended up where they are.
The one who thinks they are fine but in reality is a million miles from home.
The one for whom difficulties and storms have caused the ship of their heart to drift off course.
The one so blinded by the scorching sun of pride they do not realize that the oasis of righteousness up ahead is nothing more than a mirage in the wilderness of complacency.
He’s come for all of us. He’s coming for all of us. Help is on its way.
It's comfortable in the fold of the ninety-nine – you might even call it our comfort zone, be it a place, a town, a church, a denomination, a theology, a career, a relationship, even our “way of doing things.” But that one sheep is outside that zone of comfort and seeking, finding, and restoring it takes sacrifice.
It’s possible that leaving our particular comfort zone to seek the lost will change us and we won’t return the same way we left. Though uncertain and scary, this is not a loss in a heavenly economy, but a gain of eternal proportions.
So, Mercy calls out to us again to ponder our attitude toward the one who is lost.
Are they disposable refuse? Getting what they deserve? Unimportant in our kingdom? Forgotten? Do we assume they don’t want to be found?
No one who is lost wants to stay that way. We aren’t created to find peace wandering lost in the world, but in being found and restored home.
Most captives – those considered lost to the rest of us – have one hope, one thought that keeps them going: being found.
Jesus is relentless in pursuing the one that is lost. Are we?
Rescue is messy business. The circumstances that surround being lost are landmines of emotion, wildernesses of pain, deserts of hope. They are strongholds of doubt, high towers of shame. They won’t release a prisoner without an all-out-war.
So what is the strategy of this holy search and rescue? What is the strategy of being found?
Love is the strategy of being found. You won’t have enough in your own supplies. You’ll need to wear His armor and take His Lead to bring that which was lost, home.
Once home, do not forget a beautiful piece of the cycle of being found – rejoicing!
In these parables the finder never rejoices alone, but call all their neighbors over to celebrate - in community. Whether that is an actual earthly community or you rejoice in tandem with the heavenly community, rejoice. The temptation will be there to rejoice alone, but that will often lead to stealing the glory of the moment which is only due Jesus. Sharing it takes the spotlight off the finder and places it on the found and the Great Searcher, the Good Shepherd.
Spend time with God today seeking to find the edges of your comfort zone. Ask for His maps and do not focus on your feelings. Allow Him to take you to the edge of that zone, look over the sides, look ahead at the uncharted plains of your heart. Where is fear playing a role? Where might the Spirit be holding out its hand to you giving you the courage to walk out of that sheep pen and into His search for the lost sheep? Can you trust Him there? Never lose sight that you were once a lost sheep on the fields of a dark world. Jesus stepped out of the most magnificent Light and Comfort and came to find you and heaven has been rejoicing ever since.