Text: Luke 15:1-10

In our Church Calendar, Good Shepherd Sunday always falls on the second Sunday after Easter, when the Gospel includes our Lord’s teaching in which he calls himself the Good Shepherd. Yet the Bible uses so much imagery relating to sheep and shepherds that we often return to the Good Shepherd metaphor in our private devotions as well as our Sunday readings. Today’s Gospel is a prime example of this reoccurring theme.

The passage opens with the Pharisees and Scribes grumbling and murmuring with indignation because Jesus welcomes notorious sinners into his fellowship. Our Lord responds by giving them three parables: the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost (or Prodigal) Son. While each of these stories has a very similar theme, St. Ambrose, one of the most important theologians of the 4th Century, points out that each of the stories’ main heroes represents someone different in the wider economy of salvation. The shepherd in the first parable is like the Lord Jesus who puts his life on the line to rescue the sheep. The woman in the second parable is like the church, who seeks and searches to find the lost coin. And the father in the third parable is like God the Father, who embraces the penitent son and welcomes him home with a party.[1] Today, we’re going to focus on the first parable, the parable of the lost sheep.

The first thing to notice about this parable is that it is indeed an answer to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes. Their grumbling was a response to the publicans (i.e. tax-collectors) and sinners drawing nigh to the Lord and being received by him. You may recall that tax-collectors in first century Israel were Jews who had sold out to the Roman occupation. Not only were they collecting tax for Rome, but anything extra they could get from their fellow Jews was theirs to keep. And many publicans were indeed getting very rich by taking advantage of their countrymen. The scribes and Pharisees had every reason to see the publicans as traitors. It’s no wonder that the tax collectors were hated, particularly when the Law of Moses forbid taking financial advantage of a brother Hebrew. So, the publicans weren’t an addition to the notorious sinners; rather, to the Pharisees, they were a specific class of notorious sinner.

Yet the publicans and sinners sought Jesus and were received by him.

The common theme from all three of these parables is the Lord’s mercy on those who would repent. Our heavenly Father would much rather see a sinner repent than to see him come to judgement. While punishment for sin is indeed just, the Lord delights more in repentance than in punishing the sinner. Don’t we hear this every morning at Matins in the general absolution? “Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who desireth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live…” Don’t we hear this every Sunday in the Prayer of Humble Access? “But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy…” Or in the Comfortable Words? “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” All of our liturgy, and indeed all of the bible, constantly reminds us of God’s mercy!

But receiving this mercy does indeed require both repentance and humility. As St. Peter said in our Epistle, “be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”

That is, not only must we be humble in our repentance, but we must be humble in all our lives as Christians. Because God cares for us, we can cast our cares upon him. We don’t have to be control freaks.

This was part of the problem for the Scribes and the Pharisees. They didn’t realize that they also needed mercy. They didn’t trust God to take care of both mercy and judgement. They were not unlike a little child whining, “It isn’t fair!” while not realizing that the last thing they truly want is absolute fairness.

The English Annotations, a collection of 17th century bible commentaries during the days of the Stuarts, puts it this way:

There were (and are) two sorts of sinners: some acknowledged or were ashamed of their sin and misery; others were righteous in their own eyes. The first sort were the ones who came to hear Christ preaching mercy to those who repented and believed in him. The scribes and Pharisees were the second sort, for they valued their own merits highly and pretended to be righteous through the works of the law. They did not embrace faith in Christ for their justification. So Christ came not to call them but those other sinners.[2]

By failing to see their need for mercy, the scribes and Pharisees were both neglecting their duty to be merciful and were also failing to receive the mercy they ultimately needed. While grumbling about the lost, they were indeed lost themselves.

Christ tells the three parables, in part, to show them this need for mercy. After all, if they could have enough compassion (or at least good sense) to search for a lost sheep, coin, or son, surely they could see that the lost sheep of the house of Israel are worth finding. And maybe the scribes and Pharisees would come to see their own lost state as well.

In the Old Testament reading assigned for this Sunday’s Morning Prayer, the Prophet Jeremiah has a lot to say about the lost sheep of Israel. Jeremiah was known as the “weeping prophet” because it was in his day that Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, and the Israelites were finally exiled from the Promised Land. Due to persistent idolatry and sin, God’s people had reaped judgement instead of mercy; the promises seemed to have been revoked. Yet, in this morning’s readings, God promises that the people would eventually repent, and God would have mercy. Jeremiah 31:9-14:

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Hear the world of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, and as a shepherd doth his flock.
For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.
Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, and shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, for wheat, and for wine, and for oil, and for the young of the flock and of the herd: and their soul shall be as a watered garden; and they shall not sorrow any more at all.
Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.
And I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, saith the LORD.

This compassion God shows for Israel is a picture of the mercy he has on all the lost sheep whom he brings into his fold, both Jew and Gentile. “[W]hen he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”

Last week in our bedtime devotions, I read the story of David and Goliath to my children. One of the things that stood out to me was how David shows his worthiness to be the king and to fight God’s enemies by his faithfulness as a shepherd. David tells Saul that he can take the out the blaspheming giant because he regularly chased down and then killed bears and lions who tried to steal lambs from his father’s flock.

I was reminded of that story when our Epistle said, “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” When the devil had us in his mouth, our Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Son of David, “went out after him, and smote him, and delivered [us] from his mouth.” Indeed, on the cross Jesus “caught him by his beard, and smote him and slew him.”[3]

As we read in our Epistle, the Christian life is one of humility. Most every Church Father, Reformer, or Anglican Divine that ever wrote about humility agrees that the first step to humility is to confess our sins. Our Prayer Book’s approach to the spiritual disciplines is a good resource for that; we have the general confession twice a day in the offices, as well as on Sundays in Communion. And with those confessions comes assurance of our acceptance by our heavenly Father. With repentance comes assurance of our right standing before the God who loves us. Humility and repentance require seeing ourselves as the lost sheep in the parable. We are the 1% talked about in Jesus’ parable. And he delights to save us. Indeed, all of heaven rejoices to see our salvation. St. Ambrose writes:

Rich then is that Shepherd of whose portion we are but a hundredth part. For he has besides the innumerable flocks of the Archangels, of the Dominations, of the Powers, of the Thrones and all the rest whom He left upon the mountains. And since they are rational flocks, they not unfittingly rejoice because of the redemption of men. Let this also incite us to a just and upright life, that each one shall believe that his own conversion to God is pleasing to the angelic choirs, whose protection he should seek, and whose good will he should fear to lose. Be ye therefore a joy to the angels; let them have cause for rejoicing in your own return.[4]

As St. Ambrose said, keeping in mind our redemption will lead to living “a just and upright life.” We will do so out of gratitude to the one who saved us. But we also do so because we know the misery of being devoured by the roaring lion. We want to be with our Good Shepherd and the flocks of heaven, not in the jaws of the devil. This is why St. Peter tells us to be sober and vigilant. We should be clear-headed and watchful lest we fall into sin.

Realizing our tendency to wander helps us to rejoice with those who rejoice. We don’t want to be like the Scribes and Pharisees, indignant that sinners are repenting. We don’t want to be like the older brother in the third parable, resenting his brother’s return. Often, such resentment is the result of an over estimation of one’s personal righteousness, and an under estimation of our Father’s grace. Indeed, in the end of that parable it wasn’t the seemingly righteous older brother who was on the same page as his father. The prodigal’s repentance was met with open arms. The older brother’s resentment was met with a rebuke.

Remember who is doing the action in today’s Gospel readings. The shepherd is actively seeking the lost sheep. The woman is actively searching for the lost coin. Even the father is looking for the prodigal; that’s why the father spies his son while he was still far off and runs to meet him. When we think of our own loved ones who have wandered and are lost, we can also be assured that God will gather all his lost sheep. Continue to pray for your lost sheep and trust your Good Shepherd. None who belong to him will be lost. He will gather the outcasts of Israel. As the Psalmist says, “heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”[5] In that day we will join with the angels and our Lord himself, saying “rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen

[1] http://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity03/Ambrose.html

[2] Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Volume III, 306-307.

[3] Paraphrasing David’s words in 1 Samuel 17.

[4] https://www.lectionarycentral.com/trinity03/Ambrose.html

[5] Psalm 30:5, BCP

Write a comment:


Your email address will not be published.

©2023 All Saints Anglican Church. Site by Vanus Creations.

Follow us: