Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  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. (Luke 15:1–7)
I suspect the more you know about sheep and shepherding, the greater the risk of getting distracted from Jesus’ main message in this parable. Let’s make sure we’re crystal clear on the heart of this story.
From a shepherd’s point of view, the urgency in finding the lost lamb is realistic. However, what shepherd in his or her right mind would leave the flock at the mercy of weather or predators? That’s a great way to lose an entire flock.
Furthermore, I remember being around sheep as a child. These sheep were oily and dirty and stunk. Let’s just say I couldn’t envision wrapping a flea-infested lamb around my neck.
But such observations are overthinking it. For example, the text never says the flock is at risk, surely the lamb’s owner ensured for the care of the flock.
If anything, the fact that sheep are flea bitten and stink only highlights the real message. The Good Shepherd’s highest priority is reclaiming those sheep who are lost. It doesn’t matter how much the lost have fouled their fleece with sin. The Good Shepherd is always searching for those who have strayed.
We follow in our Good Shepherd’s footsteps. We are always alert for those who have wandered away from God, striking out on their own. It is our privilege to pray for the lost, to reintroduce them to the Good Shepherd.
(A Second Look devotions are written for the congregations of the Ohio District LCMS.)