Discussing the meaning of “parable,” a student used as her example Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, and explained it thus:
Do not be greedy. If you have plenty of something and happen to lose one, do not panic over the one. Remember you have plenty more.
I do like the student’s idea as it applies to getting and spending in the workaday world; some multibillionaires and megacorporations might take a lesson from her. But surely the picture of a shepherd giving a philosophical shrug and saying “Oh, well, I lost a lamb. I still have 99, so what’s the big deal?” is disconcerting–a lamb isn’t quite the same as a dollar, or a hairpin, or even a piece of jewelry, say. I hate to think of that little lamb off on its own in a land of cliffs, rivers, and predators. And that’s one lackadaisical shepherd. When will he panic–when the number drops below fifty? twenty? three?
Her explanation is going to cause a fundamental shakeup in the Church.
It’s not as if I didn’t mention the allegory-like purpose of a parable: to translate spiritual lessons into familiar, concrete stories that lead to an idea that parallels the lesson. If the student understood that, then for her, God responds to the loss of a soul with a big shrug: “Well, I have plenty more good people; what’s one sinner more or less?”
The most beautiful stained-glass window in the Congregational Church in Woodbridge, NJ, church of my childhood, was “The Good Shepherd.” A sweet-faced Jesus held a shepherd’s crook in his hand and carried a happy lamb in his arms. I knew what that window, which faced the altar and consequently to which I sang when I was in the Junior Choir, meant.
But I guess times change.
A lesson for the modern age, perhaps.