A colourful sheep - September 15th 2019
One of the most controversial aspects of Jesus’ ministry was his engagement with ‘outcasts and sinners’. The upright and respectable didn’t get it. So Jesus told a parable of a shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go and rescue 1 that had gone missing. Most listeners would have said 1 sheep was not worth the risk. Jesus thought differently, and his shepherd came back with the lost sheep on his shoulders.
Yesterday I came across a cartoon with a twist on the parable. It featured the returning shepherd greeting the 99 sheep only to be met with the response: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Hold it right there! He wasn’t lost. We kicked him out! This was all in pen and ink drawing, except for the sheep on the shepherd’s shoulders, whose wool was in striking rainbow stripes. At first I thought this was a link to the Old Testament story of Joseph - the one with the coat of many colours - who annoyed his brothers so much they wanted to kill him but they settled in the end for selling him into slavery. But it turned out the colourful sheep had a much more contemporary reference. The rainbow stripes were the colours of the LGBTQ community. Other variants of the cartoon had the shepherd (Jesus) meeting the lost sheep who told him: Well actually I’m not lost. It was clear to me I wasn’t really fully welcomed.
Would Jesus have approved of this take on his story? Well the whole point of stories was not to make statements but to make people think. A good parable might take a minute or two to say but could provoke hours of discussion. What if? Why?
Did the story apply to me, my cousin, my grandparents? What actually was the sin? Being gay or abandoning God because you didn’t think he valued you?
Jesus ends his story by saying: there will be greater joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent. Whether he could find 99 such people is quite a different matter.
“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? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’
Lord, when we lay out the welcome mat, make sure you challenge us to make that welcome fit your terms and not ours. Amen.