This is the 10th in a series of daily Advent reflections based on the RCL Daily Eucharist and RCL Sunday Eucharist. To see the other posts in this series click on the Advent Reflections link above, or in the right-hand sidebar under categories.
Today’s reading is Matthew 18:12-14 the text is short so I have included it below.
As you can see by today’s title, it’s about sheep. I don’t have many photographs of sheep. Just a couple from a trip to North Wales a few years ago. So I thought I would take a photograph of one of my favourite ties. These are very joyful sheep, none look too lost.
These are a couple of sheep from North Wales – I must say the sheep of North Wales seemed a lot more aggressive than I had thought sheep should be! The rams would stare you down and give such a loud and terrifying BAAAAAA that I took the photos using a telephoto lens!
This one doesn’t look like a lost sheep to me, it just doesn’t want to be found!
Now the reading for today,
Jesus said “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? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
I think we can take one of two approaches to this parable of Jesus. A modern-day one might be – Who in their right mind would leave 99 sheep in the wilderness (the wilds) to go to look for one missing one? Sounds like we are risking 99 to save one. Not today’s idea of efficiency or effectiveness. Not good value for money! The point we may make is that God’s love and concern for each of us is so extravagant that God does what it takes to restore everyone of us. Each of us is valued by God. Each is worth searching out and bringing safely home. That even includes you and me! We should jump with joy like the tie sheep. I think this a valid way to hear this parable today.
The second approach might be to look at this parable from the point of view of 1st century people living in Judea. In this case the story (at least according to eminent authorities like Kenneth Bailey) would be seen a little differently. 100 sheep would be an enormous number. And we should probably understand Jesus as saying “if a shepherd was responsible for 100 sheep…” because shepherds would not own 100 sheep. So the shepherd may be responsible for all these sheep and would no doubt have other helpers. When he went to find the sheep, his trouble was just beginning. Apparently a lost sheep will just lie down and refuse to move. The shepherd would have had to pick up the sheep and carry it across his shoulders all the way back to the village for the night. We can probably assume that the other 99 are safe under the care of the shepherd’s helpers. The joy then, isn’t just in the finding of the lost sheep, it is taking joy in the burden of restoring the sheep to the fold. It would be hard dangerous work carrying the sheep, probably late in the day, back all the way to the village. Think about what Jesus did!
We can be glad that Jesus tells us that it is God’s will that none should be lost. But, this is not just a parable that let’s us sit back and watch God. It seems likely that this parable suggests that we should take joy in the burden of restoring the lost to the fold. What is our part in all this?
Look around and you will see many people these days who seem lost. People in need of hope, in need of a friend, in need of a sense of belonging. If the Christian community can provide these three things, then we need not worry about the future of the church. Advent is a good time for me to reflect on how I can offer hope, friendship and a sense of belonging to others. Thanks for reading this far.