What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12–14)
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells the so-called “Parable of the Lost Sheep” for a somewhat different reason that he does in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke’s more familiar version, the sheep appears to represent the general “sinner” – it could be anyone. But in Matthew’s version of the story, the lost sheep is associated with “one of these little ones” – a reference to the little children whom Jesus says are “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (see Matt. 18:1–5). Children in the ancient world were powerless – mere objects or property – so it is ironic that as the disciples argue (or, as the Church argues) over who is the greatest, Jesus displays utmost concern for those deemed the least of these in society.
In his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson says it best:
My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice . . . the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.
We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. (Stevenson, Just Mercy, 18)
In Jesus’ world and in Stevenson’s mind, no one should be lost and forgotten. What about in your world and mine? – rc