Bad Math

In Lent 24 by Bruce LogueLeave a Comment

“Jesus asked them, ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?’ When he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'”:

Luke 15:3-7

In the ancient world of Luke 15. shepherds were itinerate, traveling from field to field, depending on how good the plants were for his sheep. (Psalm 23 is a good description of the life of an attentive and caring shepherd.) To keep sheep safe from predators, shepherds would create a corral using large rocks, where he would lead the sheep. There was a gateway that stayed open since it had no gate. The shepherd would lay across the opening at night to protect the sheep.

In a story Jesus told, one sheep got separated from the flock. Lost. But the shepherd still had ninety-nine sheep that were safe and accounted for. In normal accounting, we would say that sometimes you have to take your losses and make sure you don’t lose any more. But this shepherd used an unusual method of accounting.

This shepherd leaves his ninety-nine safe and healthy sheep to go find one lost sheep. One percent of his flock is a reasonable amount of loss, so you could hear the gasp from Jesus’ listeners. In what world would you leave ninety-nine percent of your flock to the mercy of predators to find one percent? It is bad math.

Jesus tells two other stories to underscore the point he is making about the love of God. The first is about a woman who loses one coin out of her dowry. The coins were what made her marriageable, so in desperation she completely cleaned and swept her house until she found it.

In the second story the younger son of two sons went to his father and demanded his part of the family inheritance, which his father gave him. He took his newfound wealth into a distant country where he wasted it on wine, women, and song. Destitute and sitting in a pig pen eating pig food, he went back home to beg to be a servant. They father says something like, “Hog wash. You are my son and will be received with joy like a son.”

In all three cases, there was breakout rejoicing because what was formerly lost was now found. That is the message of these three parables – rescuing lost things. It is also in the three parables that God loves us and wants us in the manner of the shepherd, the woman, and the lost son. Where else do you find someone who loves us without limit and risks everything in order to have us back?

Something to Think About: Is there ever a time when you consider the well-being of the ninety-nine over the needs of the one? How does Jesus’ math in regard to lost things strike you? What do you think it would look like if you used Jesus’ math in your relationships?

Something to pray about: Father in heaven, we know that these parables from Jesus are really parables about you. You are the one who would leave ninety-nine to find one. Who would throw a party if you found your lost coin. Or a lost boy that comes back home. Please help us to be that kind of people. Through Jesus’ we pray. Amen.

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