From the Word
1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Luke 15:1–5, RSV
Christ is the good shepherd. He has lighted the lamp, that is, the gospel, and he goes about in the desert, that is, the world. He seeks the lost sheep, when he comes with his Word and proclaims to us first our sins, and then his grace and mercy. Christ’s declaration, that he is the Shepherd and has laid our sins upon his shoulders, makes us fully trust in him, and makes publicans and sinners run after him. These would not have come to him, had they regarded him as a hard and wrathful judge; they were drawn to him when they heard this loving doctrine.
Learn from this, that our neighbor is to be sought as a lost sheep, that his shame is to be covered with our honor, that our piety is to be a cover for his sins. When you come together, conceal the shame of others, and do not cause wounds which you cannot heal. Should you meet with anything like this in some one’s house, throw your mantle over it and close the door. A very good reason for doing this is that you would have others do the same to you. Christ acts thus. He keeps silent and covers our sins. He could expose us to shame and tread us under foot, but he does not do so. All will be brought to light, however, at the final judgment. There is in God’s judgment no greater sin on earth than when pious men and women despise those who lie in their sin.
Hence this gospel is very comforting to sinners. But while it is friendly to sinners, it is a source of great fear to Pharisees. It is spoken to those only who acknowledge their sins, and they acknowledge their sins when they repent of them. It is of no use to the Pharisees, for they do not acknowledge their sins. To those who acknowledge them and are about to despair, the gospel must be brought. When your sins are gnawing at you, and your heart is agitated, say: Oh, God! I have come to feel my sins, I need the one Shepherd who seeketh me. I will freely venture on the gospel. When you thus come to God, you are already the sheep placed upon his shoulders. You have found the Shepherd.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 281–82.