In the kingdoms of our world, we find varying degrees of community and a deep yearning for utopia-- a kind of ‘holy city’ where our best humanness is constantly toasted until we collapse in a drunken stupor. Our best efforts are forever contingent upon finding funding and competing for relevance.
God is building a new kind of community in the world. The Heavenly City is not built by human hands and is not subject to our wrecking balls or funding cuts. Unless God is central to our community building, we will always disintegrate.
This new community is called ‘The Kingdom of God’. The Scriptures imaginatively teach what it is with metaphor and analogy. One of the Kingdom metaphors is a flock of sheep with a good shepherd.
One hundred sheep represent a healthy community. Together they have shared resources and maintain a strong defense. The predators are warded off by the efforts of good shepherding.
Jesus told this story to religious leaders who were entrusted to take care of God’s flock in Israel. They noted with contempt that Jesus always surrounded himself with the people who were not righteous. This story responds to the Scribes’ and Pharisees’ self-righteous, smug posturing.
People who were immoral or who followed occupations that the scribes held to be incompatible with keeping God’s law. A rabbinic rule stated that “one must not associate with an ungodly man,” and the rabbis would not even teach such a person… The rabbis taught that God would welcome a penitent sinner, but these parables teach that God seeks out the sinner.[i]
The Jewish leaders excluded those who wandered away from their demanding righteousness. These people who got into trouble were the lost sheep and expected to find their own way home. Shepherding was conditional upon compliance with flock standards of behaviour.
Religious elitism and arrogance always leaves people on their own without community. Hard-hearted religion leaves behind its homeless sheep.