The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7)

In St Luke’s gospel, we read how Christ told three parables about God’s mercy towards sinners. The first was the Parable of the Lost Sheep. In this intriguing story, he spoke of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine of his one hundred sheep in the desert to go in search of just one who had gone missing.

As Pope Francis explained: “We are all familiar with the image of the Good Shepherd with the little lost lamb on his shoulders. This icon has always been an expression of Jesus’ care for sinners and of the mercy of God who never resigns himself to the loss of anyone. The parable is told by Jesus to make us understand that his closeness to sinners should not scandalize us, but on the contrary it should call us all to serious reflection on how we live our faith.”

He continued: “Our parable unfolds around three characters: the shepherd, the lost sheep and the rest of the flock. The one who acts, however, is only the shepherd – not the sheep. The shepherd, then, is the only real protagonist and everything depends on him. The parable opens with a question: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).”

The pope reflected: “It is a paradox that arouses doubt about the action of the shepherd: is it wise to abandon the ninety-nine for one single sheep? And what’s more, not in the safety of a pen but in the desert? According to biblical tradition, the desert is a place of death where it is hard to find food and water, shelterless and where one is at the mercy of wild beasts and thieves. What are the ninety-nine defenceless sheep supposed to do?“

He went on: “The paradox continues, in any case, saying that the shepherd, having found the sheep, “lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me’” (15:5-6). It seems then that the shepherd didn’t go back to the desert to recover the rest of the flock! Reaching out to that single sheep he seems to forget the other ninety-nine. But it’s not like that really. The lesson that Jesus wants us to learn is, rather, that not a single one of us can be lost.”

This stained glass scene of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is found within the Church of the Sacred Heart, Hove. In fine detail, it pictures the shepherd as Christ himself, recovering the poor lost sheep caught amid the brambles in the wilderness. The window dates to 1902 and was produced by the Lavers & Westlake studio.

See the full image:

Lavers & Westlake / The Parable of the Lost Sheep / Stained glass / 1902

Where to find this work of art
Sacred Heart, Hove

Read the relevant passage
Luke 15:1-7

On a similar theme

  • From the Old Testament: As a tale of a shepherd caring for his sheep in the wilderness, the parable builds on previous biblical examples, such as Moses guarding the flock of Jethro.
  • From the New Testament: In both Christian art and preaching, the parable is linked to the concept of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

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