The Ninety and Nine


A sermon about sheep. Isaac, aged 6. 2014. Paper, ink, and crayon.

The Relief Society Visiting Teaching Message for February is The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Good Shepherd. As I was preparing to visit my sisters, I thought about Christ going out after the lost sheep, leaving the ninety and nine behind. It occurred to me that Christ can only go out after the lone lamb if he has some confidence that the other ninety-nine are in safe pastures, a protected flock.

Sometimes we’ll be called to tag along with the Shepherd, to go through the wilderness on a mission of redemption, hoping to bring our little sibling lamb home. And sometimes, perhaps without even realizing it, we’ll be the lost ones. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him, the iniquity of us all.”

But I reckon that most of the time, we’ll be the sheep on the homefront. As members of the main flock, we’ll naturally clump up in little groups. Some of us ninety and nine will nestle down, secure in the center. Others of us claustrophobic types breathe better on the periphery. But we all are safe within the pasture, awaiting our Good Shepherd’s return.

As members of the ninety and nine, we have a special obligation to keep our pastures safe and welcoming for all sheep, even the bedraggled, broken ones pulled in off of the moor. We have to protect and love each other, so we cold shoulder anyone out of the pasture. And as one of my sisters pointed out, we have an obligation to be vigilant against the wolf in sheep’s clothing, who would decimate the most innocent and vulnerable among us.

7 comments for “The Ninety and Nine

  1. Rachel, I agree that the first priority ought to be that “the other ninety-nine are in safe pastures, a protected flock.” Yet too often the thrust of Church programs is toward those with no affiliation to the Church (missionary work, with at least 1 out of 100 active Mormons devoting full-time service and the rest of us supporting them financially and otherwise) or who are not active members of the Church and may not even consider themselves LDS (“the rescue,” absorbing considerable time and effort month in and month out by local members for generally meager results).

    Only recently have we seen signs of serious concern about looking after the 99, apart from the traditional exhortations to go to church, read your scriptures, and serve. We need to think as hard about keeping current members engaged but not burned out as we do about how to evangelize prospective members. Correlation has worked so hard for so long to pare down the LDS program that there isn’t much left for some people; maybe it is time to beef it back up a little? Maybe the danger isn’t just wolves in sheepish clothing but bored peripheral sheep who just wander off?

  2. I was surprised at your assumption that Christ can only go out after the lone lamb if he has some confidence that “the other ninety-nine are in safe pastures, a protected flock.” That is a very different assumption than the one that I have always made. I have always believed that the shepherd leavs the 99, and even leaves them more vulnerable, as he reaches out and searches for the one. The anti-intuitive lesson from this is that for that moment the shepherd appears to value the lost sheep over the entire flock.

    Surely he ought to stay with and protect the flock. Surely he ought to let that one go and protect the 99. But he doesn’t and didn’t. Just as the widow gave until she was herself in a position of being needy, just as the prodigal son is welcomed home and honored despite his rebellion, just as the laborer who worked for one hour receives the same wages as the one who labored for one hour, in each case logic is upended and God’s way is shown to not be our way.

  3. There is danger in riding a metaphor too far. The only thing meant in leaving the 99 is to illustrate how important each of us are to Christ. It doesn’t mean he is like Dory from Finding Nemo, and can be so distracted by something that all else goes to pot.

  4. Last year, my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While visiting the outskirts of Bethlehem, we saw a shepherd tending his flock. Our guide drew our attention to a sheep that had wandered off and said: “Watch what the shepherd does.”

    He didn’t leave the rest of the flock to retrieve the wayward lamb; instead, he threw a rock at it! And it worked. The dumb ol’ sheep, after being pelted by a stone, came back to where he belonged.

    More than once in my life the Lord has thrown a rock at me, which didn’t feel real good at the time but ultimately redounded to my benefit. He has pretty good aim.

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