Welcome back to our ongoing series, I DARE YOU. This is our look at the unique parables of Jesus Christ from the four Gospels found in the New Testament. Once a week, we will examine one of Christ’s stories and let his challenge to his first-century audience speak to us now and provoke us to live in the Kingdom of God better, more fully, more wholeheartedly. We see these parables as dares to step outside of the norm of the world and enter into what God has for us. We hope that you will be likewise challenged and that you will take the dare to live a more Christlike, Kingdom of God-focused life.
They are timeless. They are not restricted to a geographical location. They always pack a punch. They always demand a response.
These are the things that I keep finding as I examine the parables of Jesus. There is not getting around these 4 things, no matter how popular or unpopular a parable may be. Even the small one that are only a few verses as we’ve already seen.
While we may have heard the parable before, the challenge Jesus makes is just as fresh as ever. And it demands that you and I respond. Now.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
“Then Jesus told them this parable: “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 15:1-7
All of Jesus’ parables start with something that his audience understood. They know what mustard seeds were, how they were sown, and how important the soil was to a healthy crop. They understood how inheritances worked, and dividing property between two sons. And they understood who shepherds were and what they did.
The idea of a sheep leaving the herd, running off beyond the shepherd’s grasp was not a foreign concept. There may have been shepherds in the audience that totally understand the frustration of counting the sheep, only to be short by one or two. It would have been an irritating memory, wandering into the desert or the valleys, hunting down that one sheep.
What I think threw Jesus’ listeners for a loop, something that we’ve skipped over, is the fact that the shepherd of the parable throws a party. OVER A SHEEP.
PARABLES ARE STRANGE FOR A REASON
A poor shepherd throws a gala over the fact that he found that which was always his. This isn’t an accomplishment, like someone is having a baby or they just graduated from college. The guy found something he lost. The shepherd is wasting time and money over a living cotton ball. He is wasting time, he is throwing money away on food and drinks and decorations (arguably, I don’t know what went into a first century celebration). All of it over a stupid sheep that wandered off when it shouldn’t have.
I think about my eldest daughter’s fourth birthday party coming up, I think about the things we need to get and how to budget for that (I try to use my family money wisely, while blessing my kids). And that is my daughter.
When I read this parable, I’m left with impression that this party, any celebrations that this shepherd may have had would have been lavish, and then Jesus goes further and says that things are even bigger and better in heaven over a single sinner coming home.
The question that this parable raises is, why? Why would anyone, any shepherd ever go to such lengths to celebrate, lavishly celebrate the return of a living lawn mower that poops? Why go through all the trouble of searching high and low for a foolish little lamb, and then deal with the headache of a community get together, at your own expense?
The Shepherd sees the value of the sheep. Or, the Shephered sees value in the sheep. That is why.
And this is where the challenge, the dare of this parable comes from.
Jesus is daring us to care.
I included more than just the parable on purpose. Look at the context, what’s happening before the parable. The Pharisees and teachers of the law are disgusted by the company that Jesus is keeping. They believe that these individuals are the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth; tax collectors and sinners.
But Jesus, the ultimate Good Shepherd, saw the value in these tax collectors and sinners. There was value in them, and they were of value, so Jesus sat with them. He taught them. He ate meals with them, and was their friend.
Even though they may have been living in sin, acting in ways that the Law of Moses spoke clearly against, Jesus saw them as valuable. Even if they political or social allegiances were in question, whether they were trading in their nation for a seat at the Roman table of power, Jesus saw that these people were worth his time and attention. It didn’t matter if they had intentionally left God or had never been introduced. Jesus cared about them.
And Jesus invites all of his disciples, all those that chose to follow Him and his way of living, to dare to care.
Care about the sinner. Care about the tax man. Care about the sinner. Care about the people that you judge based solely on outward appearances as living in sin, or away from God. Care about them.
Because God cares about them. He sees value in them. He sees the value of them.
WHAT DO WE DO THEN?
God looks at the tax collector, the sinner, the [put the name of whatever modern evil doer comes to mind here], and he sees someone made in His own image, in his likeness, created as unique and blessed above all other creation (Genesis 1:26-28).
God looks at those that have left him, abandon him, or never heard his name and thinks about how much he care, how he made them uniquely in the womb of their mother, how they were made wonderful in his sight (Psalm 139:13-16).
That’s how God looks at them, and that’s how he looks at us.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” – Romans 5:8-10
Jesus dares us to care about the people that have been pushed to the margins, the people that have been labelled as evil and sinful. Jesus calls us to see the value of these people as so great that heaven rejoices with a great and more extravagant party than you know. Jesus wants us to see all of his children as precious and deserving of love, even before they come home.
Start by seeing people not as the sum total of their actions. See them as beloved sheep, sheep that the Shepherd would happily hunt for. Sheep that the Shepherd longs to hold and bring home again. Sheep that are so value that heaven wants to throw it a lavish gala.
See people as precious and sacred. That is how Jesus sees them, and how he sees you.
This is a parable about salvation, about heaven responses to those lost that are found. But this is something that we need to take away first.
All people, even in the midst of their sin, are loved and cherished by God. We are to go out and show that same kind of love. Go, do it.
I dare you.
All Scripture references provided by Biblegateway.com Be sure to check them out if you are looking for a verse, some commentaries to help you understand a passage, or a devotional to keep you in the Written Word every day. Or for those on the go, check out their app, available at the App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Fire.
Photo Credit: The Good Shepherd, James Tissot, 1886
This article first appeared on Christian Thought Sandbox.