Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:3-7
One of the perplexing questions of all time has been: What kind of a relationship exists between the Divine and the sinner? Will God punish or will He forgive? Will He be compassionate or just? If He wants to be just then He cannot be compassionate. Compassion and justice cannot exist together. If the sinner is also rewarded in the same way as the saint then what is the use of being a saint? To say God is just and compassionate is a paradox. If He is compassionate the sinner cannot be punished, in that case, He can’t be just. Many answers have been given to this question but the answer that Jesus gives is very enlightening. Jesus is not a believer in punishment. On the contrary He can drop the very quality of justice from God but compassion cannot be dropped. This is because justice is a human ideal while compassion is divine. God is compassionate.
Why does Jesus always choose the shepherd and the sheep? The symbolism is very meaningful: Sheep live in a crowd and have a collective mind, not like independent beings, huddled together, afraid to move alone. The whole crowd of mediocre minds is just like the sheep.
A school teacher asked a small boy whose father was a shepherd, “If there are ten sheep and one jumps over the fence, how many will remain? The boy said, “None”. The teachers said, “What are you saying? I am giving you an arithmetical problem to solve. Ten sheep were there, one has jumped out; how many are left behind?’ The boy said, “You may know arithmetic, but I know sheep: none”.
Since sheep have a collective mind they move as a crowd. If one jumps all will jump. The shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep behind and went in search of the one sheep that had gone astray. Jesus always says that God will go in search of the sinner, not in search of the mediocre. He goes in search of the one sheep that strayed away because this one had become individual. The one that has gone astray is more powerful than those who remain on the path. The other ninety-nine were just a crowd.
Who are the people who go astray? It is always the people who have the courage to assert themselves. The mediocre ones will always yield. The mediocre are weak and afraid they cannot stand alone. The mediocre ones appear good but their goodness does not come from their strength but out of their weakness. They are good because they dare not be bad. This kind of goodness is not good because the moment they become strong they will become bad. Goodness must come out of overflowing strength for it to be truly good. When goodness comes out of weakness it is only an appearance like the plastic flowers. But when a plant has much energy it truly flowers. Goodness should come out of energy not out of weakness.
The sinners are the most beautiful person in the world; gone wrong. They can become saints at any moment. Saints are beautiful, sinners are beautiful, but the people who are just in between, they are ugly because they are not alive and are just a burden to themselves and others. Those who go astray are considered beautiful because it is part of the growth process. A rich man can renounce his riches, but a beggar has no riches to renounce. A beggar on the street and Buddha on the street are both beggars, but the quality differs absolutely. Buddha is a beggar by his own will. He is not forced to be a beggar. It is His freedom. Buddha is a beggar because he has tasted the riches and found them futile. There is richness around Buddha’s begging.
But a beggar who has never been rich, also standing on the road….his begging is simply begging because he does not know the taste of riches. How can he renounce a desire which he has not fulfilled? How can he say riches are useless? He has no experience of it. Renunciation after experience is carries great weight. A poor person can only console himself that there is nothing in riches while in his dreams he lives in palaces. This kind of renunciation is false and dangerous. Likewise only a sinner can become a true saint or else your saintliness will be poor and nearly dead.
Be courageous! Move beyond the clearing, go to the wild. Life is there and only there will you grow. There may be suffering but there is no growth without suffering. There may be a cross, because without a cross there is no maturity. Be powerful and assert yourself. Stand on your own, don’t follow the crowd. Whenever the sheep leaves the fold it means it is no longer afraid of the forest, not afraid of the wild animals, it has become fearless. The one has thus moved away from the crowd God loves. God rushes to seek, find and bring it home. When the sheep is brought back the remaining ninety-nine may be brand it as a sinner, the one that went astray. But those ninety-nine sheep will be absolutely unable to conceive that the shepherd is carrying that sheep on his shoulders and has ordered a feast because the sheep which went astray is now found. God in His compassion will always go in search of the sinner.