Oct 11 = LOST in the Margins (Matt 18:10-14)
Theme = Forgiveness, Outreach, Love, Loyalty
Deidox Video: A Police Officer Is Called to Those on the Margins
Matthew and Luke vary slightly in their retelling of these stories. Note—Jesus would not have told a story only once—but, as with any ancient storyteller, would have used the stories in different places and given a different spin. In Luke’s account the story is the first of 3 told to counteract the judgmental attitude of the religious leaders who are critical that those on the margins responded to Jesus’ call to salvation (Luke 15). In Luke’s account, the lost sheep was a story involving a seeking shepherd who sought the sinful person to the point of risking everything.
Matthew’s story occurred after Jesus’ discussion concerning children being oppressed by others. This occurs in Matthew’s section that runs from 13:53 through 19:1. This block includes the feeding of the 4000 and 5000, along with many of Jesus’ miracles and confrontation of the religious leaders. In chapters 16-17 Jesus’ identity is in focus. In Matt 16 Peter made the great confession at Caesarea Philippi, then Jesus rebuked him for not accepting that the Messiah had come to suffer and die. In Matt 17 Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus on the “Mount of Transfiguration” where he again reminds them that he must suffer, be rejected, and die—so that he can bring about the resurrection. The first few chapters of this section Jesus emphasized that the way of the Lord involved suffering, rejection, and sacrifice. At the end of Matthew 17 he taught Peter and the disciples that even though “sons of the King” are exempt from taxes they will humiliate themselves and pay the cost—to be an example. At the beginning of chapter 18 Jesus used a child as an illustration of humiliation (not innocence or humility).
Up to this point Jesus has strongly emphasized that the Messiah had come to reach out to those on the margins and live on the edges of society. Jesus was not just a savior to those cast out or vulnerable in society, but he existed there. His shameful death suggested that he came to identify and embrace those on the margins.
As we approach the “lost sheep” it is important to realize that Jesus has not discussed “lostness” or “rebellion” from others. The vulnerable or weak were the humiliated of society. Jesus, who must suffer the humiliation of the cross had come to embrace, live among, die as, and reach those on the margins of society. Matthew clumped these stories together to illustrate that disciples were called to “go to” those on the margins, not preach at them.
Matthew’s shepherd story suggests that the one sheep “wandered off” while Luke only tells us that the shepherd lost it. However, in both accounts the shepherd abandons the 99 and looks for the 1 wandering sheep. In Matthew we read that the shepherd is happier to find the lost lamb than the 99 who were safe. In some way this was not a time for the shepherd to condemn or preach at the sheep. The animal wandered off, as animals do—yet it was vulnerable, susceptible to the wolves, and isolated from the herd.
Matthew also offers the spin that “God is not willing to lose a little one.” This reflects the previous story where Jesus held children and reminded the disciples that the greatest were the children. After this parable he told the story of the person who sins against the disciple and asks for forgiveness. For Matthew Jesus had come to go to the margins—this is where the shepherd operates most effectively. The message for disciples is the same. Too often churches focus on reaching those with money, power, and prestige. While they deserve salvation, the Gospel calls disciples to go to the vulnerable, humiliated, and marginalized. Who do we know that is shunned, set apart, isolated, or excluded from the group?
Even more, what happens when Jesus’ disciples exclude those from the group—or drive out others from among us? While conversion is a turning/repenting and transforming, it can only be done in a community that offers acceptance and welcomes those who are most vulnerable in our world.
The parable of the lost sheep is a reminder to us that:
- God seeks those who need guidance, are lost, and wander off. While some reject God’s call to discipleship, God is in the business of seeking people. Throughout the Bible God “initiates” relationship with people. Even more, God “attempts to reconcile” with the children.
- If this is the nature of Jesus, then what is our response? Are we to be concerned with being safe, hanging out with “safe people,” or keeping the “saved saved?”? It seems that we too are called to go after the wandering sheep.
- The shepherd is happy to go to the margins to seek out others. While it is true that churches many times focus on outreach and neglect those on the inside, shouldn’t we also understand that our calling is to be shepherds who seek the lost?
- Is our discipleship supposed to focus on keeping us safe, secure, and cared for? Or is our discipleship a call to radical love and searching for those who are hurting?
- How can churches/disciples tell the difference between a wandering sheep and a sheep that has no desire to be part of the group?
- What does this parable say to you about your spiritual growth and discipleship?