7 December 2010

Matthew 18:12-14

"So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost." (v. 14)


Verse 12 sets before the reader some complicated moral dilemmas. It pictures someone responsible for 100 sheep, 1 of whom has gone astray. The shepherd is with the remaining 99 on the open hillside. What is he to do? Abandon the 99, exposing them to danger, to go looking for the stray? Or cut his losses: leave the one to ensure safety for the 99? The answer isn't obvious.

The reader might expect verse 13 to pose another dilemma. What if the shepherd decided to go searching? There could be no guarantee of success. But if he found the stray, what will be his attitude? Annoyance and anger? Or relief and happiness? 

Actually, verse 13 isn't a matter for debate. Jesus makes an authoritative statement, a solemn declaration about God ("truly I tell you"): God always rejoices more over a stray who is found than over 99 who never wandered away. 

But precisely who delights God so much? It is 'one of these little ones who has gone astray' and is now found. In context, these words probably refer to a relatively new disciple who has gone astray. And to go astray is to get drawn away from the austere, single-minded following of Jesus. It is to get sucked in to "the cares of the world and the lure of wealth" (Matthew 13:22). 

God ("your Father in heaven") never wants an inexperienced disciple to go off the rails. God risks everything and goes searching for the one who has wandered away. That is the extent of God's care. God rejoices beyond measure when a young disciple is restored to the way of the Lord, the way of the cross. 

Everyone in the Church, sharing in the very life of God by following Jesus, must watch out for new disciples. Experienced disciples must care enough to go the extra mile in searching them out if one of them goes astray. That is top priority. 

To Ponder

Parents bringing up and caring for their children face challenging issues in today's world. Who supports you, if you are a parent? And what support can you give to parents you know?

Caring for colleagues at work, or for people in your neighbourhood, in ways that respect a wide range of values and lifestyles: who helps you both to be true to yourself and to be genuinely friendly?

What is your experience of giving and receiving pastoral care in your congregation? How can it be better focused?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.