“Be careful that you never despise a single one of these little ones—for I tell you that they have angels who see my Father’s face continually in Heaven.”
“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one wanders away from the rest, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hill-side and set out to look for the one who has wandered away? Yes, and if he should chance to find it I assure you he is more delighted over that one than he is over the ninety-nine who never wandered away. You can understand then that it is never the will of your Father in Heaven that a single one of these little ones should be lost.” -Matthew 18:10-14 (JB Phillips translation)
The importance of small things is not lost on Jesus. This parable is a great illustration of the power of small things, of their worth.
To drive home the point before He even tells this short parable Jesus takes a child in vs. 2 of this chapter and sets the child down on His lap. He has a visual focus for His audience and for us as He tells this parable about small things. A child on His lap and a story about small things with big worth coming from His mouth.
The disciples ask Jesus who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus gives them answers they don't expect and He gives them a story.
I live right next to a cemetery, and in my office there is a large window that overlooks our backyard and right behind our backyard you can see the sprawling cemetery with all the gravestones stretching out in every direction. You can see the path that winds down down the cemetery so that people can walk down the path or drive down it as they often do. People come and visit quite often, and one older man comes regular as clock-work to visit his wife, place flowers and keeps the place looking nice. There are others who keep the place tidy and mow and trim up the trees and bushes why go through the extra effort? It's a small thing and it makes no difference to his wife, she's dead. But somehow it's very important, this ritual.
Probably it's important for many reasons, this ritual, but I suspect that one of them is the same reason we have ceremonies every year to remember the cost of terrible wars long ended, and monuments with names listed. Scores and scores of people who have died or who have gone missing and are presumed dead.
And people go and visit them and they take flowers, and they salute and they cry. And we keep those memorials clean and tidy because they are important to us, we want to remember, we want to keep those people with us. We don't want to lose them.
A quote by Madeline L'Engle expresses some of this idea nicely:
“If you're going to care about the fall of the sparrow you can't pick and choose who's going to be the sparrow. It's everybody.”
This parable has an Old Testament counterpart that it is probably based on, in Ezekiel 34. In vs. 6 of this chapter we have the opposite of the New Testament parable, Israel's leaders were not looking out for their people and the results are summarized in this verse, “My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”
There is nothing worse than being lost and having no one to look for you, that's a lonely, depressing feeling.
In Luke's account of this same parable when the sheep is found the people from town get together and have a party. The sheep owner calls everyone up and they come over and have a get together and celebrate over finding what was lost. Same thing happens with the lost coin and the lost son, the prodigal. When they are found people get together and have a party. There's nothing more sad than the thought of going missing and nobody noticing.
That is, I'm afraid, the reason a lot of people don't go to church. They used to go, used to be part of the flock, but they missed some weeks, got sick, had work, and no one came looking for them.
Oh you say, if they were part of the flock they'd come back, the Holy Spirit would convict them. Perhaps….but who wants to be part of a flock that doesn't even know one of it's own is missing,who leaves it to the wolves and the weather? Nobody.
One of the reasons we lose people in the church is that we make a big push to proclaim the gospel and get them in the flock. And then we leave them to fend for themselves. We don't pay attention, we push around to ask, “who's the greatest” and push for numbers, push for proclaiming the gospel.
We should be paying attention to the child on the lap of Jesus and the graveyards in our backyard that might need tending.