Midweek Faith Lift
October 5, 2022
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
September 20, 2022
Stuck in gridlock, an Indian surgeon ditched his car and ran almost two miles to the hospital where one of his patients was awaiting him for gallbladder surgery. Dr. Govind Nandakumar of Bengaluru said he sat in traffic for quite a while, then made the decision to make a run for it. “Running in the middle of the road in formal shoes is not ideal, but the surgery went smoothly and my patient recovered well.”
"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast and, when I run, I feel God's pleasure." – Eric Liddell, British Olympic runner
Affirmative prayer: I live and move and have my being in the life of Spirit. Today I live with great intention, mindful that, with every step I take, I am moving more deeply into God’s heart. Amen.
This week we explore the Parable of the Lost Sheep and our take on this parable is quite different from what is usually understood in traditional Christianity. We have most likely all heard this parable before, but let’s take a look at it again so that we are clear on what it says. It is the story of the 99 sheep and the one that is lost. The Good Shepherd leaves the 99 to find and bring back the one lost sheep. Dr. Michael calls it “The Law of Independence” which is a quite different take on this parable. It is found in Luke 15:1-7 and it reads like this:
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
At first reading, the very traditional interpretation of this parable relates to the one “sinner” who repents and accepts Jesus as savior, which is the traditional message of salvation. It is interesting that there is not much celebration for the other 99 who have remained righteous, having no need of repentance, no need to change! The word “repent” literally means to change direction and go a different way. Is it really possible that the other 99 have no need to change? I don’t think so, and neither does Dr. Michael. So what is with this story, anyway, if we can’t take the easy way to interpret it?
First of all, it is highly unlikely that a shepherd would abandon 99 sheep and leave them unprotected just to find one lost sheep, so that interpretation is suspect even as it is so appealing. Instead, we are being set up with a paradox in this story of the one vs. the many. There must be something very special about this one, lost sheep that results in the shepherd working so hard to find it. So what does all this mean?
To help unpack this parable, Dr. Michael relates the story of “The Hundredth Monkey” written by Ken Keyes which explains how in 1952, researchers noted a very special behavioral adaptation in one particular monkey of the Mucaca fuscata Japanese variety of monkeys. Researchers had given the monkeys sweet potatoes, but left them in the sand, which made them undesirable. The monkeys loved the sweet potatoes but not the sand, so the monkeys had a problem. Until one particular female monkey took her sweet potato to a nearby stream and washed it and then ate it. This was a female that they had been observing for 18 years, so they were aware of her patterns and behavior.
This was a rare act of brilliance, of independence, for Imo to wash the sweet potato before eating it. In the world of science, Imo was a groundbreaking thinker and problem-solving monkey as she did something completely different from her monkey ancestors and her monkey colony. This alone would be noteworthy, but then she did something even more remarkable: she taught the technique to her mother who in turn taught it to her playmates who taught it to their mothers! In 6 years every monkey on the island had learned to wash sweet potatoes before eating them! It was revolutionary learning and adaptation in the world of monkeys! And then something even more fascinating happened when a kind of critical mass of monkeys learned this and it spread to monkeys on other islands so that all the monkeys washed their sweet potatoes, even the one on the mainland. And thus, “the hundredth monkey” concept was born!
This puts a totally different focus on the one “lost” sheep story, doesn’t it? What if instead of being “lost” in a negative way, we start thinking of that lost sheep as being a leader, outside of the pack and perhaps an innovator? We have a lot of indicators in the story to point us in this direction. First, the listeners are of two fairly entrenched camps: tax collectors and sinners vs the religiously righteous scribes and Pharisees. And these two groups spend a fair amount of energy condemning each other. It is a classic set up for Jesus to tell a story that zings both groups, each of whom would count themselves among the 99 who are in the “righteous” majority. Jesus does not condemn either group, he just tells a story that is designed to make both groups aware of a higher consciousness, a greater awareness beyond their narrow focus.
To understand that more fully, let’s look at the numbers in this story for they are a clue to a deeper, more metaphysical understanding. We have four identified groups of people: tax collectors, sinners, scribes and Pharisees. Four is a number of human completion, so all of our humanity is represented in these groups. Then we have 99, which is a highly concentrated version of the trinity, 3x3 and double the intensity, not just 9, but 99 for emphasis. Now if we pause and recall that trinity signifies the creative process: mind, idea, expression, then we are being invited into a richly potential field of consciousness to bring about something new. And they with all the “humanness” in the four groups, we pause again to realize that each one in these groups has the personal trinity of “human self, divine or higher self, and observer self” from which to operate.
Suddenly this story is truly alive with great potential, which is manifest in the “lost” sheep. Jesus describes the 99 as being in the wilderness and one who has gone beyond the wilderness. What we seek is the “One” lost sheep, the one idea, belief, behavior, attitude, innovation that can truly bring us into Oneness with all that is. It is the “Hundredth Monkey” that takes us out of our righteousness and into something truly new and healing and uplifting. And when we step out of the herd mentality, into a new consciousness, a new way of thinking and being, then it is time for great rejoicing for sure. Just like Imo who had the novel idea of washing her sweet potato and then taught it to her mother. She did not plan to start a revolutionary idea among monkeys, she just tried something new and different that might work! And it did!
This parable is actually a challenge to us to be creative, to think outside the box, to take a risk and try something new and different. Just like Dr. Govind in the opening story, we get out of the car and we run in dress shoes, even when it makes no sense! Our source for this creative process is our deep connection with Spirit, our time in the wilderness alone when we may feel intensely “lost,” or “stuck” in the heavy traffic of the herd mentality. At this time in the evolution of humanity, it behooves us to reflect on our singular contribution as learners and as leaders. I love this quote from Parker Palmer:
“A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside him/herself, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good."
May we know that during our time of feeling “lost” in the wilderness, Spirit is always present for us, in us and as us. We may move away for a time, but Spirit never moves and we are always “found.” I close today with the wonderful, challenging poem by Marianne Williamson. May you be the “Hundredth Monkey!”
Our Deepest Fear
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear in that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the World.
There is nothing enlightening about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel unsure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
As we let our own Light shine,
we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others."
Blessings on the Path,