I have often thought that had Jesus been a ‘respectable’ religious leader, many of his sayings, his parables and his interaction with the publicans and sinners, not to mention the Pharisees who would have been seen as his contemporaries, would have been very different.
Consider for a moment the parable of Sean, the lost sheep...
There was once a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One evening he lovingly made sure they were safe from marauders, then nipped indoors for a nightcap before drifting off to sleep.
All in his life was orderly, predictable and calm. He had a faithful and dutiful wife to whom he had never raised his voice, let alone his hand. There was always food in the cupboard, hot meals for dinner, clothes washed and ironed. He and his family were paragons of virtue.
Next morning, after eight hours of sleep of the just, and a hearty breakfast he left the comfort of his home to tend his flock. This invariably involved counting them, just to be sure that his investment was secure. ‘...ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine’.
‘Ninety-nine! Can’t be just ninety-nine! We had a full complement last evening!’
And he checked, twice over, and yes, only ninety-nine, so he launched a full enquiry. Was there evidence of the remainder of the flock having been traumatised? No, they were their usual complacent selves.
Any sign of a break-in? No, all the gates and doors were secured, and being a good shepherd who knew them all by name, he concluded it was Sean the sheep who was missing.
Now Sean was the unpredictable one, the troublesome one, the one who always challenged the shepherd’s authority, who would not submit. He was not like the others.
The ninety nine bedded down and asked no questions, but Sean, well no one was surprised that in the dead of night he was the one who climbed over the fence just to see what it was like out there.
And the shepherd? Well, he did his sums. His investment was 99 per cent secure and there was no good reason why he should neglect the safe in order to rescue the unruly.
And that was all there was to it: ‘If he needs me, he knows where I am.’
There are very many who have left the church, who have ‘climbed over the fence’ to see what it’s like out there, who have fallen into a sheugh and who could easily be brought back into the fold if only someone would care to go look for them.
I look back over my life and I am so grateful for the many times that the good shepherd left the safe, predictable ninety-nine, found me, placed me over his shoulder and brought me back home.
However, isn’t it interesting that when Jesus told that parable in the hearing of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, they could only mutter, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
They totally missed the point that Jesus made in winding up his story: ‘I tell you that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’