The Challenge of the Parable

One of the wonderful things about Jesus’ parables is that they so often involve an element of surprise. Jesus uses simple language and incident familiar to his listeners, making it easy for them to follow the progress of his story. Then, just when they are sure they’ve figured it out, there is some sudden turn or comparison that challenges His listeners and, hopefully, brings them to a deeper understanding of His lesson.

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells two brief parables to them in response to the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes that he welcomes and eats with sinners: the story of the shepherd who loses one of his 100 sheep and the woman who lost one of her ten coins.

If you were a shepherd listening to Jesus speak (“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?”) your immediate reaction would have been, “What is he crazy?” No shepherd in his right mind would leave 99 sheep on their own to go and search for one lost sheep. He’d be sorry for the loss of the sheep, but would write it off as the cost of doing business.

Jesus sure go their attention. The idea of such a shepherd would have been staggering to them. Then he paints a beautiful picture to them of the shepherd arriving home with the lost sheep and rejoicing with all of his friends. What better way to convey to his listeners the enormity of God’s love – the message that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”