Barry Newman's Blog

March 23, 2013

The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep (part XI)

Filed under: Parables of Jesus,The Parable(s) of the Lost Sheep — barrynewman @ 9:25 pm

What was involved in the rejoicing that took place?

The two parables differ in the way they report the rejoicing of the man upon finding the one sheep and we should be careful not to transfer either account or parts of either account to the other.  In Matthew it is said that the man rejoices more over the one he finds than over the 99 that never went astray.  In Luke, it simply says that the man lays it on his shoulders rejoicing.

With respect to the story in Matthew, one might question to what extent there would be any rejoicing over the 99 that never went astray. Are we seeing here an expression, perhaps peculiarly Semitic in origin, that indicates that while there would be no feeling towards the 99 sheep that had not gone astray, there would be a sense of relief upon finding the one that had gone astray?  Perhaps Jesus speaks of the relief as though it were joy in order to highlight the relief.  Furthermore, the words, “Truly I say to you”, that preface the remark about rejoicing, emphasise this rejoicing. Consequently perhaps the reference is to “immense relief”.  On the other hand, the notion of “rejoice” rather than “relief” is what we find in the text and if we think this is not what we would expect then perhaps we have to see the reference to “rejoice” as an oddity.

In Luke there is no comparison between the rejoicing at finding the one sheep that was lost with the rejoicing over the 99 that were not lost.  Upon finding the sheep, the man lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing at the same time.  Bailey, as already indicated, thinks there is something a little peculiar to this part of the story.  He says one might expect him to say, “I have found my sheep!” but why would he then rejoice at the thought of having to now carry the sheep on his shoulders?  The text does not say directly what he rejoices about but the implication seems to be that it is the finding of the one sheep. That this rejoicing is placed alongside of his placing the sheep on his shoulders seems to indicate however that he dismisses from his mind the physical labour in bringing it back to safety.

Perhaps in different ways, each story, each with its focus on rejoicing has Jesus strongly emphasising the point.

Luke’s story concludes with the man calling together his friends and neighbours, asking them to rejoice with him, because he has found his sheep that was lost.  The use of the dual, “friends and neighbours” may be a simple even Semitic way of referring to those who have a close relationship to the man both socially and spatially.  They are members of his community, perhaps a small village community.  They will react, one way or another, to his having found the sheep.

Bailey and Levison whom he cites, as mentioned earlier, provide possible insights into how the rejoicing of neighbours and friends might have occurred and why it might have occurred. However, while such rejoicing is readily assumed, the parable itself says nothing about neighbours and friends rejoicing with the shepherd over the lost sheep having been found. It could be that we ourselves are meant to expect that under normal circumstances there would be considerable rejoicing and so supply such an ending to the story that Jesus told.   Or more to the point it could be that we are meant to expect that the hearers on the day should have come to such a conclusion as being a satisfactory ending to the story. Of course in real life, no such ending could be guaranteed.  For any number of reasons, a particular village community might not rejoice with a particular shepherd under similar circumstances.  For instance, a shepherd might have established a reputation for losing a sheep or two and even his friends and neighbours might have tired of his repeated failures, even when a sheep had been recovered.  But what Jesus told was just a story and one would be inclined to think that as a satisfactory conclusion to such a good story, the neighbours and friends would respond to the shepherd’s call to rejoice with him.

However, Jesus leaves the story hanging without such an ending.

This lack of a definitive conclusion is consistent with the parable of the lost coin where we are not told whether or not the woman’s friends and neighbours rejoice with her, and the parable of “the lost son” where we are not told whether or not the older son joins in the feast for the younger brother.

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