Re-reading Luke 15
The following is from notes of my thoughts during a priesthood lesson over a year ago.
Luke 15 tells us three stories, all are about loosing a prized possession. But each teaches a very different lesson. As I recall, the priesthood lesson that brought the Spirit and helped me learn the following, quickly descended to the normal, modern-Mormon interpretations of these parables, when the teacher opened it up for commentary. It’s unfortunate that Luke wasn’t familiar with these modern interpretations when he recorded these three parables together, in what is now chapter 15 of his book.
Luke sets up these parables with the context that “the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, [Jesus] receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” So we must assume that what follows is Luke’s perception of Christ’s response to these accusations.
The first story is of a lost sheep (Luke 15:3–7). If one in a flock goes missing, how does that happen? Well a shepherd can’t watch his flock 24-7, he must sleep. As he does, the flock continues grazing, moving in a direction, but generally staying in a group. If one sheep finds a particularly lush patch of grass, or some other distraction, it will become “lost” simply by staying where it is. The church can work in much the same fashion. We never want to leave people behind, yet the goal & purpose of the church is that its constantly moving forward, progressing on both an individual level as well as on the whole. Thus a person can get left behind, simply by not continuing to move forward with the group. Sins of omission still make one a sinner.
The context suggested throughout is that the shepherd in this story is not Christ. He’s speaking to Scribes and Pharisees, the spiritual and political leaders of the Jewish community. He’s suggesting that the church leaders are the shepherd and have lost one of their flock: in this instance the “sinners” which he’s eating with. He’s probably simultaneously teaching the 12 the same lesson, so that they can do what the current Jewish leaders are not. In a modern context, the shepherd would be all of us, who through as simple a calling as home or visiting teaching, play the role of “leader,” “shepherd,” and “gatherer.”
So when Jesus says the shepherd did certain things, we receive instruction for handling those who are lost. The Joseph Smith Translation of Luke 15:4 says that the shepherd will “leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness after that which is lost, until he find it” (emphasis added). The idea conveyed here is that the task is neither easy nor safe. The symbolic wilderness of the scriptures and many ancient texts is a place of hardship and the unknown. It’s also a place of testing, where one can either become lost and die anonymously, or achieve great things, by being true, in spite of tribulation. We must go into the wilderness to find the lost sheep. Plus, in spite of the trials and difficulties, we must not stop until we find them. In other words, we must not give up on those that are lost and be willing to spiritually go where we might find much hardship and trial.
Again, Jesus instructs what to do once the lost has become found, by saying that when the shepherd “hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulder’s, rejoicing.” This is how to best bring these lost sheep back. We put them on our shoulders and carry them back to the church, to the truth. Of course we don’t force them, but we let them use our testimony and strength in the gospel, until they have received enough spiritual strength and the comfort of rejoining the flock, to continue on their own. And perhaps most importantly, we rejoice like the shepherd that “calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”
What examples have you seen/experienced in your life of gathering a lost sheep? I’ll be sharing one in Part 2. Read Part 2 here.