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“Ask a Priest: What About Those 99 Sheep Left Behind?”
Q: My hairdresser, a Protestant who recently returned to her faith, was wondering about the parable of the lost sheep. She understood why Jesus went after the lost sheep but did not understand why he would just leave 99 alone. It seemed she was concerned that they were abandoned or alone. Please offer thoughts of what the Church teaches on this parable. – Julie
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: When it comes to parables it’s good not to try to read every detail in a literalist way.
The point of this parable isn’t that Jesus would abandon the 99 — that would be absurd, since he came for the salvation of everyone.
Rather, the parable points up that every single soul is important to Our Lord. He doesn’t want anyone to slip through the cracks. He is willing to search for the lost sheep.
That is why the Church reaches out and prays for the lost sheep who drift away from Christ. The Church knows that Jesus loves all souls, so all souls are worth fighting for.
The parable, as told in Luke 15, comes right before the parable of the lost coin. In both cases there is a celebration.
The idea that poor peasants would call together family members and neighbors to celebrate such relatively minor events is an exaggeration. It’s unlikely that the working poor would have time to break for such a celebration. Again, the point is that to underscore how much Jesus values the return of a lost soul.
The above answer is by no means meant to be an exhaustive interpretation of the Lost Sheep parable. Other perspectives and insights could be drawn out.
Scripture is full of riches that will be mined till the end of the world. And it can certainly provide lots of material for more conversations with your hairdresser.
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