Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 138. Parable of the Lost Sheep
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 138. Parable of the Lost Sheep

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

A Girardian reading offers some interesting insights into the well-known parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7). In the story, the shepherd leaves 99 sheep "in the wilderness" until he finds the one who was lost.

The "good shepherd" leaves an entire herd unattended in order to rescue one lost sheep. A Girardian reading suggests that this parable teaches that we should not scapegoat one individual in order to protect the rest of the community. If we renounced scapegoating, we would risk losing the unifying effects of scapegoating. Without scapegoating to restore peace and order during times of crisis, accusations, rivalries, and hostilities could escalate and envelope entire communities in violence. In other words, like the shepherd who risks the flock to save one sheep, Jesus encouraged us to risk communal destruction in order to avoid killing a single innocent scapegoat.(1) However, there can never be justice or reconciliation of God's Creation as long as there are innocent victims of human violence.

It is also remarkable that, in Luke's Gospel, the parable of the lost coin immediately follows the parable of the lost sheep and immediately precedes the parable of the prodigal son. All of these stories relate the importance of abandoning cultural norms and folk wisdom in favor of concern for the one in need. In all these stories, people extravagantly celebrate after finding and saving what was once lost. The woman who finds the lost coin celebrates with a party that may have exceeded the coin's worth. The father of the prodigal son disregards the traditional manner of fathers as proud, dignified, and erect, and he joyously runs to his son. In contrast, primal communities use rituals to celebrate the expulsion and/or killing of the one who has "gone astray," e.g., possessed by evil spirits.

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus explained the parable of the lost sheep: "Even 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" (15:7). The Apostle Paul provided teachings that can help us understand this saying. After noting that sin invites God's grace, Paul asked, "Are we to continue to sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1). Paul answered his question, "By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2). Just as the 99 obedient sheep were unlikely to wander away themselves when the shepherd sought the missing sheep, those who have truly been reborn in Christ are unlikely to stray from the path of love, compassion, mercy, and righteousness after renouncing the community-unifying benefits of scapegoating. Rather than rejecting the "lost sheep" as deserving abandonment, Jesus' disciples would seek to reunite the "lost sheep" with the herd.

1. I am struck by parallels between the parable of the lost sheep and Genesis 18:24-33, in which Abraham asked God whether God would spare Sodom if there were 50 righteous people there. God answered that he would spare the city for the sake of the righteous ones, and Abraham repeatedly asked the question, each time reducing the number of righteous people until he asked a final time, "I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." God said that he would save the city if there were only 10 righteous people. Then God departed, and, to my reading, the text indicates that Abraham did not dare to ask whether God would save an entire city of sinful people on behalf of a single righteous person. The reason, I think, is that the ancient Hebrews were unprepared to consider that God would totally reject the logic of sacrifice, which calls for sacrificing a few innocent individuals in order to eradicate the sinfulness of the larger community. Jesus rejected the notion that sacrificing even one individual for the rest of the community accords with God's desires.

Go on to: Part 139. Parable of the Prodigal Son
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