Two contexts, the same illustration; two questions, the same point: “What do you think?” “What man among you….?”
In Matthew Chapter 18 the disciples want to know who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven; in response Jesus calls a child to Himself and talks about becoming as a child and about the way we treat children, and by extension others – don’t cause others to stumble. Jesus concludes His response with a question:
“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”
The disciples are concerned about being the greatest, and in their concern over themselves they are ignoring the children around them. The children can hardly be important, what do they have to offer? They can’t help deal with the Roman occupation. They can’t contribute to the expenses of ministry. They are of no use in confronting the religious leaders with their harassment and plots. They can hardly be sent two-by-two on mission trips. Children are of no practical use. And yet Jesus says, “…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea…See that you do not despise one of these little ones…”
No one sees the children; they are of no practical use, no one sees the children…but Jesus. “What do you think?” Jesus asks. Maybe the disciples should stop thinking about themselves and go looking for the 100th sheep lost somewhere in the mountains.
In Luke Chapter 15 the religious leaders are complaining about Jesus welcoming the religious and socially unacceptable into His company; these outcasts were “coming near Him” and the good and proper religious folks didn’t care for that, the unwashed needed to be kept at a distance, how could Jesus welcome them?
Jesus tells this parable: “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” To the religious leaders the socially and religiously unacceptable were of no practical use, in fact they might be construed as a threat to righteousness, one wouldn’t want to touch them or breathe the same air lest contamination occur, and one certainly would not eat with them. A righteous person would not want to invest time or resources in such people, they didn’t belong in the synagogue or Temple, they belonged in the garbage heap. Jesus asks a question, “What man among you…?”
How are we responding to Jesus’ questions today? What does our response look like? I fear that our reliance on social “science” and demographics and return on investment and fundraising and myriad utilitarian tricks results in a response that says in deeds if not in actual words, “Our studies have shown that our resources are best used in focusing on the ninety-nine and we really can’t invest ourselves in the one that is outside our target group…why we don’t even know where the person is; it wouldn’t be good stewardship to go looking for that person; no return on investment, it’s not practical, it won’t help us grow our church, it’s not the right demographic, surely you understand.”
As I read and reread Matthew 18 and Luke 15, as I ponder Jesus’ message, as I picture the shepherd seeking the one isolated and fearful lost sheep, and in so doing leaving the ninety-nine, as I see that this is a matter of the heart – for finding the lost sheep results in rejoicing and celebration – as I ponder these things…I don’t think Jesus will understand all of our utilitarian justifications for not seeking and saving that which is lost…whether or not that sheep is in our target demographic.
Lord, let me overlook no one – whether or not it makes practical common sense; help me to know what it is to seek and save that which is lost.