Many faithful church goers are familiar with Jesus’ parable of the man who owns 100 sheep, and loses 1 of them. It is thought to be a lesson about the great lengths God, and by association, Christians, will go to bring 1 lost sheep back to the fold of church membership. This surface understanding often causes churchgoers to see themselves as the 99 good, faithful, obedient sheep who stay close to their owner.
People who choose not to join a flock, are judged to be lost sheep. Those who belong to a flock of sheep would never imagine themselves as lost, because they believe they’ve been found. It’s always some other person who is lost and must be returned to the flock.
Well, let’s think about the accuracy of this perception.
Suppose Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep has nothing to do with church attendance, church affiliation, or church membership. Suppose this parable points directly to an organizational pattern for social justice – a pattern dating back to the original way that the tribes, in the Mosaic encampment, organized themselves to ensure social justice. The organizational breakdown was 1,000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s. The original pattern was based on Ten Commandments and the entire life cycle of the people in the encampment, from birth to death. See the illustration below.
In this scenario, the 100 sheep are the 100 leaders chosen to represent 1,000 families within their tribe. The 100 sheep form a tightly woven social fabric to ensure everyone’s needs are met equitably, fairly, and justly among the 1,000 families in their care. In this way, the number of squabbles would naturally be kept to a minimum because people’s needs and concerns were addressed by their immediate representatives. It is a local model for grassroots care-giving at its finest.
Want SOCIAL JUSTICE to prevail in society?
Find 100 sheep and create a social safety net for 1,000 families. Then, go find another 100 sheep for another 1,000 families. Then, go find another 100 sheep, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. Social justice will eventually become a reality.
THIS is the work of the church. THIS is how the kingdom of heaven is brought at hand. THIS is how souls are saved from neglect, abject poverty, and feelings of worthlessness.
So, the dilemma Jesus’ presented in the parable of the lost sheep is an organizational breakdown in society. When 1 of the 100 sheep walks away from leadership in the tightly woven social fabric, it causes a hole in the safety net that supports 1,000 families.
If the social fabric starts to fray and fall apart, the owner must mend the hole in the social fabric by finding the leader who abandoned his post. To the owner of the 100 sheep, this is a life and death matter! It’s not life of death for the 1 sheep who walked away, but for the 1,000 families who depend on a tightly woven social network for the whole of society!
Sadly, the church of today cannot teach the organizational truth about Jesus’ parable because the church has no knowledge of why the man owns 100 sheep in the first place. Christians don’t understand the organizational purpose of the 100 sheep. The church of today makes NO organizational connection between this parable and the ancient tribal organization that ensured social justice in the Mosaic encampment.
Instead, the church has turned this parable into a shepherd’s hook. The parable is used to guilt people into coming back to an organizational model that should never have existed in the first place. Good grief! Hooking people into the ancient Temple system was the polar opposite of Jesus’ intent. He was talking directly to the religious leaders who were upholding the Temple system. He was reminding them exactly how far they had strayed from the original organizational pattern which ensured equity and justice!
Jesus was slapping the Temple leaders in the face with their own organizational failings!
He was telling them to look in the mirror if they wanted to criticize him for eating with outcasts! He wanted them to know that they were the ones who had walked away from the very organizational model that could prevent people from becoming a social outcasts! In essence, Jesus was shouting a reprimand.
YOU are the sheep that walked away!
YOU are the sheep the owner is trying to find!
YOU are the missing sheep!
YOU are the sheep causing a hole in the social fabric!
YOU are the sheep preventing social justice!
But, no one thinks they are the missing sheep.
Mark my words:
Social justice will not, cannot, happen until Christians learn the truth of Jesus’ parable. When we begin modeling the pattern shown to us 3,000 years ago; when we begin organizing as a social net-making operation for the purpose of achieving social justice — that’s when the world will see the kingdom of heaven at hand.