99 or 1?

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” (Matthew 18:12-14)

Jesus asked for the opinion of His disciples on a hypothetical situation. “A man has a hundred sheep,” He begins. We must presume that the man is the owner of the sheep, not a hired person. In John 10:12-13, Jesus asserts that a hireling does not care about the sheep, and would not be motivated to recover them if they were lost. However, an owner loses his property when he loses sheep, and the retaining of valuable property is his motivation for their recovery.

Jesus presumed that His disciples would see the wisdom of the decision to leave the ninety-nine and seek for one lost sheep. He also presumed that they would have the same joy in finding and restoring the lost one to the flock. However, there are critics of this rescue plan who say that it would be foolish for any shepherd to leave the other ninety-nine “on the mountains,” exposed to predators, or in danger of scattering in every direction, just to recover one sheep. Their thinking is that the loss of one sheep could be written down in the ledger of the shepherd as the “cost of doing business.”

But Jesus says that the shepherd of His parable is God, whom the prophet Ezekiel quotes as saying, “As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered...I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:12-16)

God has demonstrated again and again that He cares for every one of His children, and for every assembled group of them, as well. An urgent search for one lost soul seems to be justified by God’s special concern and care for such a one in this parable.

In Luke’s record of this parable, the Spirit guided him to quote Jesus saying, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

Each faithful Christian who knows of another who has strayed should treat the situation with the same concern, care, love, and effort shown by God. (Galatians 6:1)