12 September 2010

Luke 15:1-10

"Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?" (v.4)


Whenever a church service includes the baptism of a small child, the congregation are reminded that God's love does not depend on the child's achievements or personal qualities. As yet, the child has no CV to boast about. There is no testimonial or character reference, except perhaps that of the parents and grandparents (who are, it goes without saying, the perfect unbiased witnesses!) The child cannot respond to God's love, but in baptising them we affirm that the love of God doesn't depend on anything they have done or can ever do. God's love is unconditional.

Jesus tells us nothing about that one sheep. We aren't told whether it was particularly aggressive or awkward to handle, or whether it made a habit of getting lost. All we know about it is that it is lost. The response of the shepherd to this crisis is swift - he leaves the other sheep (presumably in a safe place) and tracks down the lost one. The prompt action of the shepherd models the unconditional love of God.

All too often throughout history the Church has turned God's unconditional love into a power-trip, making demands of people who know they are lost and desperately want to belong, turning God's free gift of new life into a performance.

Could this be because we, like John Wesley (one of the founders of Methodism) in his early years of ministry, do not understand our own need, or sense the presence of the shepherd who spares no effort to find us? Could this be because we ourselves have not been rescued by the Good Shepherd yet?

To Ponder

How deeply do you know yourself to have been rescued by the Good Shepherd?

Imagine what it could have felt like to be one of the 99 deserted by the shepherd. What might you want to say to the shepherd? And how might the shepherd respond?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr John Ogden

John Ogden spent most of his life (he is now in his late 70s) teaching Computer Science in the universities of Glasgow and Reading. A local preacher since 1964, he served the Reading and Silchester Circuit as a circuit steward in the 1980s, then candidated for (non-stipendiary) ministry.