Sewing Hope Into Broken Hearts
Sept. 30, 2017

How to Find Sheep

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." ~ Matthew 28:19 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep is recorded in two different Gospel accounts; Matthew (18:10-14) and Luke (15:1-7). The central story of the shepherd leaving ninety-nine and searching for only one stray is the familiar common denominator, but the contexts which surround this story in each Gospel are very different and help us to learn different aspects about caring for those who are lost.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is teaching his disciples lessons about leadership, sin and how they should approach dealing with tough issues that arise in their ministry. It is for these reasons biblical scholars often call the eighteenth chapter of Matthew the “discourse on the church” or the “ecclesiastical discourse” (The Navarre Bible Standard Edition: Saint Matthew’s Gospel, 126). Jesus begins the parable saying, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father (Matthew 18:10).” This is the second reference Jesus makes to “little ones” in Chapter 18, just a few verses earlier he says; “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the sea (Matthew 18:6).” These "little ones" are very important to Jesus and should be to us (unless you want to go on a seemingly doomed deep sea diving expedition).

Who then are they? “Everyone in need of special care for whatever reason [because they are recent converts, or are not well grounded in church teaching, or are not adults yet, etc.]” are those Jesus is referencing by using this term (The Navarre Bible Standard Edition: Saint Matthew’s Gospel, 126). Jesus is making it clear that his disciples must care for and not mislead His most tender sheep; because people who are not firmly rooted in the Gospel can easily go wandering off in their quest to find the truth. It is our job to ensure that doesn't happen.

How? Jesus shows us in the Gospel of Luke.

St. Luke recounts the parable as part of a confrontation between the Jewish authorities and Jesus.
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain saying ‘this man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So to them He addressed this parable (Luke 15:1-3).” The theory Jesus preaches in Matthew, he embodies in Luke. “Jesus’ actions manifest God’s Mercy; He receives sinners in order to convert them. The scribes and Pharisees who despised sinners cannot understand why Jesus acts like this; they grumble about Him, and Jesus uses the opportunity to tell them these mercy parables.” (The Navarre Bible Standard Edition: Saint Luke’s Gospel, 137).”

Jesus actions in Luke echo His words from Matthew, saying to the Jewish authorities, “do not despise these little ones.” Unlike the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus is willing to reach out into the mess of sinners lives, untangle the knots and bring them home. The Good Shepherd models for the Jewish leadership and us how to bring wandering souls back to the truth. However:
“The Pharisees in general were jealous of his influence over the people, a jealousy which can also beset Christians; a severity of outlook which does not accept that, no matter how great the sins may have been, a sinner can change and become a saint; a blindness which prevents a person from recognizing and rejoicing over the good done by others (The Navarre Bible Standard Edition: Saint Luke’s Gospel, 137).”
When we are consumed by self-righteousness, we abandon our search for the lost and even become resentful of those who are humbly working as agents of God’s mercy. It is to illuminate this error of self-righteousness in the hearts of the proud that Christ asks the question, “what man among you having a hundred sheep would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it (Luke 15:5)?” Only those who are true disciples will answer, ‘I would’.

As Jesus says:
“A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd, whose sheep are not His own, sees a wolf coming and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine and mine know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:12-15).”
Jesus knows us, equips us and expects us to be His shepherds, devoid of sanctimoniousness, helping “little ones” find their way back home to Him.