So Jesus 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 person who need repentance.”
St. Luke 15:3-7
Since 1909, an all-male a cappella (no piano) singing group called “The Whiffenpoofs” from Yale University have sung their way into the hearts of uncounted thousands of people.
They traditionally close their concerts with “The Whiffenpoof Song,” a light-hearted, whimsical number dedicated to a New Haven, Conn., bar where so many “Yaleies” spent time as young men with too much time on their hands.
One ought not take such college songs too seriously, but the words in part read: “We’re little lost sheep, who’ve lost our way — baaa, baaa, baaa!” That’s believable after a hard night of partying. Not being able to find your way back to your dorm is one thing; not knowing the way to heaven is quite another.
Time and again in the Holy Scriptures our Lord uses the image of sheep and shepherds to show the relationship between him, the Lord of the Universe and his people. King David wrote a psalm (song) that described the joy sheep like us have when we know just who our shepherd — Good Shepherd — is. Psalm 23 teaches us that we find peace and forgiveness in him who guards and keeps us in “goodness and mercy” all the days of our lives and will bring us home to dwell in his house forever.
In St. Luke 15, our Lord Jesus (the Good Shepherd) explains the lengths to which he will go to seek out one of his children who has acted as though he/she mattered and that God and others mattered not one whit.
That’s a “lost sheep who’s lost his way — baaa, baaa, baaa!” The problem, as several saw it, and you can read of this earlier in St. Luke 15, Jesus spent much of his time with rather unpleasant people who, uh, had “reputations.” Why did he do this? Because he cared for them and he came to die for them and for each of us who don’t have, uh, “reputations.”
You might as well criticize a physician for spending too much time at a hospital where there are too many sick people, or nab a police officer for spending too much of his time in a rough neighborhood. The point is that while we might cut our losses and say, “Well, 99 out of 100 isn’t too bad,” or even “shoot our wounded,” our Lord and Savior Jesus goes out himself to find the sheep that has left the rest of the flock. He continually tries to find this sheep to protect it from its own stupidity and from the viciousness of wild animals. So when he does find it, he knows that it is weary ... and probably still quite rebellious.
So, in one of the most intimate visions of Christ in all of Scripture, the shepherd lays the wandering sheep upon his shoulders and he heads homeward. This isn’t a lamb, mind you, but a full-grown sheep. That’s the worth of a single human life and soul in the eyes of our Lord and Savior, our Good Shepherd, Jesus.
When he arrives home, he throws a feast. His joy over finding his lost sheep is unbounded. And, dear reader, note that the sheep is you. He gave his very life for you, to win you back from Satan’s dominion to which darkness your sin brought you. And he’ll do anything to come find you and bring you home.
The “Whiffenpoof Song” ends with the line: “Lord, have mercy on such as we! Baaa, baaa, baaa!” No matter how seriously the songwriter took that request, Jesus has indeed been merciful to each of us in giving his all for us. St. Peter put it this way: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” I Peter 2:24, 25
The Rev. Bernard J. Schey is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove.