Luke 15:1-10         “Lost Sheep”


Jesus notes that some sinners and tax collectors happen to be there with him. We read this and rarely stop to think about the basic question, “How do you know the person standing next to you is a sinner?” Sinners do not come with little name badges, or even signs on their backs! Only once have I ever seen a bumper sticker that said “sinner” on it. It was a nice bumper sticker with a little red devil on it. I think that was a way to keep others from tailgating—nobody wants to follow a sinner too closely!  I was thinking that since I always seem to be being tailgated, and have even been hit by a tailgater in the past, I should put that sticker on the back of the church van. Nobody would want to get too close to me if I had that sign on the van!

            So it was back then that nobody wanted to get too close to sinners. The Pharisees themselves do not understand why Jesus is spending time with sinners. He even takes his evening meals with them. In those days, people thought that sin could literally rub off of one person onto another—you know, like you get warts or athlete’s foot. Good religious folk were therefore expected to keep a fair distance from people of ill repute. That is in essence the first part of the story of the Good Samaritan—and what makes that Samaritan good is that he is not afraid to get close to others!

            Of course, sin was thought of differently back then. A sin was thought to be when one broke one of the commandments of God. We have the Ten Commandments. After that in the bible we can read about all of the other commandments that seemed to follow out of the Ten Commandments. For instance, we can read about all of the injunctions to what we should not do on the Sabbath that will then help us to “remember the Sabbath” (The fourth Commandment of Moses.) Jesus himself was thought to be a sinner by some because he healed on the Sabbath, as we have already read in Luke.            

            Today we think of sin as being lost to God because  that is how Jesus describes it here. The Greek word that is used in the New Testament for sin means just that, away from the heart God. “Harmatia” is the word.

            I am getting off track, and so were the Pharisees in those days. They thought Jesus was a sinner because he helped sinners. They did not complete the thought in their minds “Jesus helps sinners to repent.” No, they were too busy grumbling. Grumble, grumble, grumble. They loved to talk with their two lips stuck together in the front. Murmur, murmur, murmur. Please, do not be like them. Only ever speak truth in love.


            What is super clear in the Greek, but is missing in English is that Jesus actually blames the Pharisees for the sinners being sinners in the first place. In the parable of the lost sheep that Jesus proceeds to relate to the Pharisees there, we have to note that the word for “lost” is actually “let loose” or απολυω. Therefore the one lost sheep is really the one sheep that was let loose. So, the sinners are sinners because the Pharisees have let them loose to sin. Got it? Well, how did they do that? They were forced to work on the Sabbath because of the Pharisees who employed them and did not pay enough. They perhaps stole food, because the ones who had enough food did not share with the needy. I think you get the idea. The Pharisees are supposed to show some responsibility or moral obligation, and they have not. In fact, you could make an argument that the Pharisees are the true sinners here. They are the ones that enforce the cycle of sin that people are then caught up in.

            Jesus asks the Pharisees, “Which one of you that had a hundred sheep would not go after the one that has been let loose?” The Pharisees must have liked the idea of having a hundred sheep. Jesus seems to know how to grab their attention. Who would not want to have that much wealth? This leads me to think that Jesus knew that there were some Pharisees that really did understand their responsibility to go after that one who has been let loose to sin. Why else would Jesus be telling this parable to them?

            Would you? If you had a hundred sheep, would you go after the one that was lost? Most people I asked this question to honestly answered ”no.” We would all tend to the 99 remaining sheep that also need our care. Right? Life is all about playing the odds, right? One percent is acceptable “shrinkage” in a business enterprise like this.

            This reminds me of the story of Sam Whitney, one of the missionaries who came in 1820 to Waimea. Well, he almost did not come to Waimea because he was technically lost at sea as the story goes.  The missionary couple (Sam and Mercy) were assigned work on board the brig Thaddeus as part of the payment for passage. Sam was on a board that was lowered over the side of ship so that he could apply varnish. He lost his balance and ended up in the ocean while the ship was under full sail. One of the sailors fortunately threw him a bench so that he could grab on to float.

            Okay, Samuel Whitney was only one person lost off a ship. Plenty other people on board. Besides, turning a ship around of that size while under sail was very difficult indeed. Yet, they went back for him, and we are still enjoying today the church that he built. He laid the foundation stones of our church building.

            So, that is the point isn’t it? Jesus was not talking about sheep at all! Jesus was talking about real people. If a person is lost, you go out and look for him. And, certainly if you would go out and look for a sheep, you would have to go out and look for a person too. That makes sense.

            Jesus goes on to say that when the sheep is found, the shepherd will put the sheep on his back and carry it to the rest of the flock. That is a great description of the burden that we carry for our brothers and sisters. It is like that song: “He’s not heavy; he’s my brother!” Except, as noted before, I used to be a firefighter, and we would practice carrying each other in training in the event that one of us would fall and need to be evacuated to safety. It really is hard to lift someone else by putting him on your back. I am sure that I was the lightest of all my firefighting buddies, too!

            We must learn to carry the burden of helping our brothers out of their state of being lost—especially if we in any way let them to sin in the first place! Then, once we are all back together in God’s good graces, in that state of repentance, then we can celebrate!

            As a final thought on carrying a sheep on your back, this is how the unblemished lamb would stay unblemished for the sin offering in the Temple. If you put a rope around a sheep’s neck to walk it along, then the rope may cause bruising. So, this picture of carrying a lamb on the back is really the idea of making a pure sacrifice unto God for the sake of forgiveness of sin.


            Jesus does not stop with that one parable. He goes on to tell of the lost coin that a woman searches the entire house for. Now, I find coins all the time wherever I go. People do not even pick up coins anymore. They think that it is not worth bending over for, I guess.

            Many biblical scholars believe that the coin that the woman is looking for in this parable is not just any single coin, one out of ten, but rather that coin which a wife kept in her phylactery after marriage that was a sign that she was now redeemed by her husband in the sight of Jewish Law. So, today this would be like a woman who has ten rings in her jewelry box but has somehow misplaced the one given to her at marriage.

            We know from other parts of the Bible that money had little allure to Jesus at all. He was always saying things like “give unto Caesar what is his” and “give up all you have and follow me.” (That was last week’s scripture, remember?) So, we are truly led to think that this coin was not just another bit of money. It had greater meaning.


            When we look at these two stories that Jesus tells together, we see an interesting correlation. The first story is about Jesus, the shepherd, coming and looking for us who are lost. The second story is about you and me going out and looking for what is the greatest value, the thing that marks our covenant with whom we love: Jesus. When we are lost, God is looking again for us, and we are looking again for God.

            Again, when you find your redemption, you rejoice and share the moment with your friends. Alleluia, Jesus paid the price for my soul. I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lord. Jesus paid it all.

            Jesus told me that I am not just a nobody that is just another sheep in the flock. Jesus searched me out. Jesus finds my heart. I am rescued by him—redeemed unto His kingdom. I am the sheep of his fold!