The Lost Sheep

This is a post that continues the thought in an earlier post today about our Sunday gospel on the parables of the Lost and considers the first of the three Lucan parables of Chapter 15.

 4 “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?  5 And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy 6 and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. 

Jesus addresses his listeners directly: “What man among you …?” What he suggests all will do in going after the one lost sheep is actually not what many of us would do, but the attractiveness of this extravagant individual concern makes the listener want to agree. In a split second we are drawn into God’s world, seeing and acting as he would. The description of the shepherd echoes Ezek. 34:11–12, 16:

11 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. 12 As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…16 The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, shepherding them rightly.

The shepherd’s joy is like God’s joy; his dedication to the individual sheep, carrying it back to the flock, is a reflection of God’s love. One should note that the parable ends in v.6. The verse that follows begins Jesus’ comment to Pharisee regarding the meaning of the parable.

“I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” The joy in heaven is over the change of heart (metanoia: cf. 3:3; 5:32) of the sinner (v.2). The phrase “have no need of repentance” is ironic and tragic: “So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Lk 7:47)

God does not commend the righteous for remaining righteous (vs. 7), and Jesus has not come to compliment them for what they ought to be in the first place. Nor has he criticized their standards. The tension in the story is not their attitude toward God, it is there attitude towards those God also loves.

Culpepper [296] writes, “The contrast with the ninety-nine righteous persons creates a tension that requires a reversal in the position of Pharisees and scribes and the tax collectors and sinners. On the one hand, the Pharisees and scribes are likened to the ninety-nine who were not in jeopardy. On the other hand, God takes more delight in the return of the tax collectors and sinners than in the others, and because they take offense at Jesus’ celebration with the tax collectors and sinners, they show that their spirit is far from God’s. The parable poses a double scandal for the Pharisees and scribes; not only are they reminded of the biblical image of God as a shepherd but also God takes more delight in celebrating with a repentant sinner than with the scribes and Pharisees. Their ‘righteousness’ did not make God rejoice. The celebration of the coming of the kingdom was taking place in Jesus’ table fellowship with the outcasts, but because their righteousness had become a barrier separating them from the outcasts, they were missing it.


  • R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 294-305
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 568-86
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).
    A. Oepke, apóllymi , , Vol. I, pp. 394-97
    W. Zimmerli, chaírō (to rejoice), chará (joy), synchaírō (to rejoice with), Vol. IX, 376-87
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © available at

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