As the conversation in America has moved from “there are some racists in America and that is a problem” to “America is a fundamentally white supremacist country that needs to be reconsidered from the ground up”, several memes and analogies have been used to express all of these problems in need of solving. There is the equity cartoon where people of color are unable to watch a baseball game over a fence, so they are given different-sized boxes to stand on to remedy the problem. Then there is the firefighting analogy: yes, all houses matter, but the white houses are not on fire so they don’t matter as much right now.
And then, of course, the Bible gets dragged into the conversation, where it is asserted that people of color are like the one lost sheep in Jesus’ memorable parable. Sure, all 100 of the sheep matter, but only one is lost. So let’s pour all of our focus and energy into the one lost sheep. Or, to put it another way, due to present circumstances, some lives matter more than others.
While every analogy has its flaws, you have to be especially careful when using the parables of Jesus for several reasons. One is that they generally speak to the reality of the Kingdom of God, so the parables have a limited application in man’s realm. Another common flaw in making analogies with the parables, is that we probably should not make ourselves the hero or the victim of any given parable. They work so well precisely because they are multi-layered stories that can both convict and comfort us at the same time. And thirdly, they say more about Jesus than they do about us, after all, remember, Jesus is the hero of the story…the whole story. On the whole, the Bible is for us and not about us, and when it is, we are rarely the good guy.
What the Parable Does and Doesn’t Say About Being “Lost”
But let’s consider the parable of the lost sheep. This is actually one of three parables paired by Luke, each dealing with something that is lost which increases in severity with each succeeding parable. The first is the lost sheep, which is one of 100. Then there is the woman who loses one of her ten silver coins. Then there is the Prodigal Son, who is one of two brothers who is lost. (Actually, in their own way, both brothers are lost, but the treatment of that story is for another day.)
Bringing back the lost sheep, finding the coin, or the return of a wayward son are all about the joy of being sought and found by God. Since the parables are all about the Kingdom of God, they are about those souls who have strayed from their loving father who desires that they would return home. And more than just hoping for their return, he willingly leaves 99 sheep behind, studiously cleans the house till the lost thing is found, and runs out to meet his returning son. That is who God is. That is His character and His nature.
This is certainly a delightful contrast to the legalistic SJW mobsters who constantly criticize and nit-pick others for failing to live up to an ever-changing standard of their own making or the God of Islam who offers no assurance of forgiveness or salvation. The God of Jesus’ parables is a comforting personal God who seeks out His children, in contrast to a deistic or non-existent God who leaves us to the cruel fates of Nature.
With all that in mind, we can now ask whether the parable of the one lost sheep can be used in the service of making the point that, “of course all lives matter; but at this moment in our nation’s history, black persons are the lost sheep, so they matter a bit more…” Well, as this parable is about "lost" people, meaning we are all born dead in trespasses (i.e. lost) as a result of our sin, it thus says nothing about current racial injustices. If it does, how would you know whether you are the one out of 100 who is lost? What standard would you use to determine if you are the one or part of the 99? Would you use a certain poverty line? The number of times you have been arrested? The number of dirty looks you perceive as being aimed at you? And if the one lost sheep is supposed to represent black people, are they all equally worse off than the 99 safe sheep? Does merely being black put you in that category, or can you be black and be part of the 99?
Those are just a few off-the-cuff questions that can arise if one were to employ this parable as an analogy for current racial injustices. Certainly, if this is a parable about victimization, we can find people of all races and economic situations that would fit this category for a whole host of reasons. But it isn’t about victimization, but a willful denial of and running away from a God who seeks you nonetheless.
None of this even takes into consideration the interpretation of life as it currently is among people of color in America and whether it is really as bad as being a lost sheep in the wilderness where a cruel death awaits you- which is the implicit assumption in the parable about the fate of the lost sheep if it is not found. I am not even challenging the assumption that to be black in America is to be the target of unrelenting police violence and that there are, I don’t know, dozens of black bodies in the streets on a daily basis because of white supremacists powers.
However, that’s what is really being said when the analogy of equating black people with the one lost sheep is used by Christians trying to reconcile their faith with the Black Lives Matter narrative. But I think making yourself the victim in the parable, is a violation of the parable bordering on the blasphemous. The unifying message of the cross of Christ is that we are ALL sinners in need of being found. And it isn’t because we are victims of our neighbors. Quite the contrary; it is because we are the perpetrators against God!
A Better Parable to Consider
But if racism is a great problem in our nation, let’s at least use the best parable possible to bring about healing. (We do want healing, right?) Let’s not employ the one that places us in the top percentile of victimhood, but one that actually speaks to human institutions and sin. Let’s not choose one that is about returning “home” to God’s Kingdom, but one that speaks to the acquisition of justice and charitable living among one another.
Certainly the parable of the Good Samaritan is the first one we should attend to, for it clearly speaks of an ethnically-divided people and Jesus clearly saying that neighborliness is rooted in caring for the wounded. Or what about the story of the importunate widow who engages in a never-ending nag campaign to get a just ruling from a judge? Or perhaps the forgiven debtor who, given the size of the debt he was forgiven of, should be willing to forgive others more. If there is anything that screams a lack of forgiveness, it is any worldview that believes that in order to fix past sins, we must employ present sins.
But those parables don’t quite work as well if one desires to place themselves in a victimization narrative and then expect a special status as a result of it. If one wants to paint oneself as a one-in-a-hundred victim who deserves the very special attention of the powers-that-be, who should drop everything and attend to every real or perceived need they have, then, yeah, stick with the lost sheep. But it is a bad take on a lovely teaching about God seeking out sinners for His Kingdom, but I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time Jesus’ Kingdom parables were used for earthly purposes.
Photo Credit- willvaus.blogspot. com