The Gospel text in the Lutheran Lectionary (cycle of Bible readings) this past Sunday was Luke 15: 1-10 or the parable about the shepherd who has 99 sheep that flock as they should and one sheep that wanders off into the night. The shephard abandon’s the good sheep in search for the one that has gone it’s own way. Jesus was using this story to talk to the self-righteous people of his time about why he was hanging out with sinners, the wrong sort, or the undesirables.
This text has been used by others to also stress that we are all sinners. That if you really really repent, then there will be happiness in heaven. Sometimes it has also been used to tell the people in the congregation that they need to go out and save sinners, even if it might be against their will, because well, the shepherd always knows better. Both of these readings of Luke can be off putting. Especially for many of us who have suffered at the hands of religious people who either always told us we were only sinners, or that we weren’t working hard enough to convert other people.
It is with this human-centered perspective that we often come to the text as well. We focus on either being one of the 99 well behaved sheep or maybe the one rebel sheep. Maybe you are the sheep who was inspired by Fleetwood Mac and decided to “Go Your Own Way.” And these are often the only two roles we see: good and bad. Well-behaved and troublesome. Normal and weird.
We are so focused on the sheep in this parable that we forget all about what Jesus is doing in the story. Jesus as the shepherd is gathering all of the sheep in one place. Gathering. Gathering up. Collecting. Rounding up. Congregating. Now that last word, is also related to congregation, which comes from the Latin “congregare” or ‘collect into a flock.’ A fold. The body of Christ.
Let’s focus our attention on becoming like Jesus in the coming weeks. Not to correct. Not to reprimand. Not to scold others for going astray, but simply embracing them. Gathering them into our arms. Making a larger space in our lives for other people we encounter. By doing this, we will be adding them into the worship we have here and now among one another. Adding them into the body of the Living God who continues to be among us at all times.
By Jory Mickelson