O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
purify our hearts and minds,
that when your Son Jesus Christ
comes again as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.
Psalm 96.1, 10-13
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Tell it out among the nations that the Lord is king.
He has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it;
Let the fields be joyful and all that is in them;
let all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.
For he comes, he comes to judge the earth;
with righteousness he will judge the world
and the peoples with his truth.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’
Today’s reading opens with Jesus asking his disciples a question that is often heard in a whole range of contexts: What do you think?
In earlier days I taught Philosophy and Ethics. Philosophy, meaning love of wisdom, is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence. The study of philosophy demands an openness of mind, a willingness to think the ‘unthinkable’, and the courage to set aside the ‘received wisdom’ that fills our minds as we follow the path of logical thought. The study of philosophy sits well alongside the study of Ethics because ethical thought takes us deeper into the analysis of why human beings behave as they do. Ethics addresses such issues as rights and responsibilities, fairness, and standards of behaviour in relation to others in society. Underpinning the study of Philosophy and Ethics is one core question, the question Jesus asks his disciples today: What do you think?
Jesus asks the ‘big’ philosophical question in the context of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine of his sheep to seek out and bring home the one that is lost. On several levels the shepherd’s action makes no sense. Philosophy is often studied at higher levels in conjunction with Politics and Economics. The student of philosophy is encouraged to temper their idealistic reasoning with the harsh reality of political expediency and economic realism. On this basis, it makes no sense for the shepherd to leave the ninety-nine in order that he might seek out the one that is lost.
In the 18th century, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham championed the theory of utilitarianism, which said that our thoughts and actions should be founded on whatever creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Later in the 19th century, the politician and philosopher John Stuart Mill reworked Bentham’s theory into: the greatest good for the greatest number. Whether we espouse Bentham’s original version, or Mill’s rather sinister, Orwellian adaptation, utilitarian argument would suggest that we can think just one thing: let the lost sheep bear the responsibility of their own foolishness.
Of course, Jesus’ message is very, very different. Jesus’ approach in respect of the lost sheep is one that demonstrates the message of hope that lies at the heart of the Christian message. God does not abandon any of us, no matter how far we may have strayed from him. As in the parable of the prodigal son, the father is always waiting with open arms, ready to rejoice that we have turned away from sin and returned to the fold of true believers.
Let us pray that, no matter how far we find ourselves from God, we might never forget that he is searching for us; he is calling us by name; he is ready to welcome us in joy and love. Let us also pray that we might play our part in that mission to find and welcome home those who have strayed.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray to God, by whose love all people are sustained and restored.
May Jesus the great Shepherd protect his flock the Church and lead back those who go astray. Grant to your people true repentance and the joy of knowing forgiveness for their sins.
As the people of the world wander like sheep that are lost, guide them into the way of peace. Grant the vision of your holiness to those who defame and seek to destroy the faith.
Give us grace to sympathise with our friends and neighbours in their sorrow and to rejoice with them in their joy. Make us quick to discern troubles in our community and ready to relieve them.
Comfort those who are sad because one they love is far away from them. Bless all who are lonely and away from home. Keep them safe and bring them happy reunion with those they love.
Grant rest and peace to the dead, through the mercy of Christ who came into the world to save sinners. Gather them into their true and eternal home.
As lost sheep brought back to the true fold, we pray through Christ our Shepherd.
Prayer for the week
Father in heaven,
our hearts desire the warmth of your love
and our minds are searching for the light of your Word.
Increase our longing for Christ our Saviour
and give us the strength to grow in love,
that the dawn of his coming
may find us rejoicing in his presence
and welcoming the light of his truth.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.