Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Parable of the Bad Shepherd: Wallowing in the Mire

We are all familiar with this two thousand year old parable,
“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7, NRSV)
Modern people might have a problem with making an analogy between a lost sheep and "sinner." "Sinner" sounds so judgmental, and "Sin" itself has lost its meaning. You see, nowadays, the concept of "sin" is open to interpretation. The very notion of "Sin" is frequently brushed aside as another relic of the past. Even those who accept that there might be such a thing as generic "Sin" still try to re-classify specific behaviors that were previously held to be sinful into things that can first be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle and later morph into a full blown blessing. With that in mind, let us see how the old parable might be rewritten to live into today's context.

You have in your flock many sheep. When you discover one missing, which one of you does not go out in search of the missing sheep? Which one of you, when you find that the lost sheep has discovered its authentic self as a pig, and is happiest when wallowing in mud, does not say, "Let me bring the rest of the flock here so that they too may wallow in the mud"? And when he has done so, he calls his neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found that sheep prefer to be pigs, and are happiest when they can wallow in the mire. Join us." Just so, that which was once considered sinful may now be considered blessed. (UP 7:11/12a)

I don't think my modern parable will hold up very well unless I add a follow up to the inevitable question, "Teacher explain this parable to us."
Do not do as this shepherd has done. For the owner of the sheep will come at sheep shearing time. Noticing that there are but few sheep in His pasture,  He sets out searching for the shepherd. Then the owner will find what appear to be pigs wallowing raucously in another man's sty and the lost shepherd watching over them. "They do look happy," the owner thinks, "But this is not the pure spring of water in which I had intended for them to bathe." And then He calls them, but because of their squeals of pleasure, they can not hear Him, and they can not follow His voice. He will then seek out the remnants of His flock that stayed in His pasture. I tell you, there will be more tears in heaven over the lost sheep and the lost shepherd than all the tears shed by man shed over all of time. (UP 7:11/12b) 
Sigh... this explanation will probably be rejected by various scholars as the work of some later redactor because modern studies have shown that sheep really are happiest when you let them wallow in the mire.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves
and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is
faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and
purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we
have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his
word has no place in our lives.” (1 John 1:8-10; NIV)


  1. As a true progressive Episcopalian, I believe that wallowing in the mire is a choice the sheep should make. Who are we to judge? In fact, I can hardly tell the difference between our HOB and mire-wallowing ovine.

  2. I believe the House of Bishops is leading the way.

  3. UGP,
    TEC is not attracting sinners in search of a savior. They are attracting victims in search of justice.