This blog comes from chapter three of my book. Matthew 18 has certainly been scavenged for all sorts of very strange applications in church. A most common reading comes from Matthew 18.10-14. Quite often, the application has to do with evangelism.
The usual interpretation goes something like this. God loves the one lost sheep. The lost sheep is the same sheep as every other lost sheep in the Bible (e.g. Luke 15.4-7). Therefore, let’s evangelize all those who don’t know Jesus. This however is not Jesus’ meaning.
Let’s first imagine what Jesus’ point is when we read the parable of the lost sheep here. Let’s just take Jesus’ words for what they actually say. In Matthew 18.10, Jesus said clearly that the little ones are the most important member, repeating what he had already said in Matthew 18.5-6. The little ones are members in the kingdom. In the way Jesus framed the picture, this little member is IN the kingdom, NOT OUT of it. It is a grave mistake to see the lost sheep as the lost unbelievers. Rather, Jesus was trying to say that the priority for the weak member of the church should always dominate the agenda of his faith community to make the faith community a Christ-like community.
As I always say, the texts are not at fault. The interpreter is!