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Today’s Breakfast Bible Study continued with the theme of “God’s Loving Concern” (courtesy of Thelma Hall’s book, Too Deep For Words) by reflecting upon The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt 18: 10-14).

 

I facilitate this monthly gathering, using the African Model of Reflection, to ‘pray with scriptures’.  This method works for me because it invites participants to consider the reading in light of their own experience and understanding.  We do not intend to find a “correct” interpretation; we seek how The Word speaks to each and every one of us.  Also, the method allows for use of three different versions of the same text to permit different nuances of the scripture to reach us in new and wonderful ways.

 

Before hearing the passage the first time, I invited folks to listen for a word or phrase that caught their attention, grabbed their ear, or touched their heart.  Afterward, some shared “gone astray”, or “do not despise”, and “the little sheep”.

 

Prior to the second reading of a different text, I asked the group to consider how the passage spoke to them in their life today, whether it is at home, during work, in church, or amidst their life in general.  During our sharing time, many could see themselves as one of the sheep.  Sometimes they were smack dab in the middle of the flock, but all could remember times when they were the wayward one.  I certainly could!  But I suggested that, from time to time, we all are called to be the shepherd in that parable.  We usually tend to those we know and love, but sometimes must be the one (alerted by the shepherd’s dog) to go and gather back the ‘one that got away’.

 

Regarding the texts themselves, I typically use something more traditional for the first reading, then move to a more contemporary version, and close with Eugene Peterson’s The Message as the third and last reading.  I always try to remind those gathered that Peterson offers his interpretation of the passage; it is not a translation of scripture.

 

Today’s reading from Peterson’s Message was this:

 

            “Watch that you don’t treat a single one of the childlike believers arrogantly.

              You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with

              my Father in heaven?  Look at it this way.  If someone has a hundred sheep

              and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the

              one?  And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-

              nine who stay put?  Your Father in heaven feels the same way.  He doesn’t

  want to lose even one of these simple believers.”

 

I was happy that this version had been helpful for some troubled by the language of the earlier versions.  Sometimes hearing the familiar in a different way makes the previously assumed both new and wonderful.  I rejoice when that happens.

 

In my Life & Teachings of Jesus class, as we’ve looked into the Synoptic Gospels, we have also considered some of the parallels found in The Gospel of Thomas, which was discovered in Egypt in 1945.  The “G Thomas” is not a narrative text, but rather is a ‘sayings source’ of the teachings of Jesus.  I’ve come to think of these 114 sayings as “the red letter words” of the Bible.  I wish I had thought to use this during today’s study.  The Parable of the Lost Sheep [Thomas 107] from this Gospel is:

 

            “Jesus said, “The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep.  One

 of them, the largest, went astray.  He left the ninety-nine sheep and looked for

 that one until he found it.  When he had gone to such trouble, he said to the

 sheep, ‘I care for you more than the ninety-nine.’”

 

How this passage speaks to me personally is that God’s Kingdom operates using totally different standards from that of the secular world.  The policy of ‘pushing the weakest to the wall’ is over, done and out of here!  Instead, those that are spiritually weak become the responsibility of the strong.  No one is inconsequential to God – we are all his children.  Those “personal angels” mentioned in Peterson’s interpretation are our guardian angels, the spiritual counterparts of each of us that have access to God’s presence in heaven.

 

If I may, ‘Think of it this way’: This story illustrates God’s love for a single person, a sheep of His own flock.  We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.  When necessary, we should go out after the ones who are straying to keep them in the fold.  This is the model for our mission of love as Christ’s disciples.

 

Don’t despise the one – God doesn’t.

 

Love and cherish all – God does.

 

When the 99 stand together – they’re OK.

 

Assist the Lost to be brought back in.

 

AMEN.