On the One Hundred Sheep

Luk 15:4 What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
St. Methodius of Olympus died ca. 311
He is the chief Commander and Shepherd of the heavenly ones, whom all reasonable creatures obey and attend, who tends in order and numbers the multitudes of the blessed angels. For this is the equal and perfect number of immortal creatures, divided according to their races and tribes, man also being here taken into the flock. For he also was created without corruption, that he might honour the king and maker of all things, responding to the shouts of the melodious angels which came from heaven. But when it came to pass that, by transgressing the commandment (of God), he suffered a terrible and destructive fall, being thus reduced to a state of death, for this reason the Lord says that He came from heaven into (a human) life, leaving the ranks and the armies of angels. For the mountains are to be explained by the heavens, and the ninety and nine sheep by the principalities and powers which the Captain and Shepherd left when He went down to seek the lost one. For it remained that man should be included in this catalogue and number, the Lord lifting him up and wrapping him round, that he might not again, as I said, be overflowed and swallowed up by the waves of deceit. For with this purpose the Word assumed the nature of man, that, having overcome the serpent, He might by Himself destroy the condemnation which had come into being along with man’s ruin. For it was fitting that the Evil One should be overcome by no other, but by him whom he had deceived, and whom he was boasting that he held in subjection, because no otherwise was it possible that sin and condemnation should be destroyed, unless that same man on whose account it had been said, Dust you are, and unto dust you shall return, Genesis 3:19 should be created anew, and undo the sentence which for his sake had gone forth on all, that as in Adam at first all die, even so again in Christ, who assumed the nature and position of Adam, should all be made alive. 1 Cor. 15:22 (Banquet of Ten Virgins, Discourse 3)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem ca. 313-386

When the Son of Man, He says, shall come in His glory, and all the Angels with Him. Matthew 25:31 Behold, O man, before what multitudes you shall come to judgment. Every race of mankind will then be present. Reckon, therefore, how many are the Roman nation; reckon how many the barbarian tribes now living, and how many have died within the last hundred years; reckon how many nations have been buried during the last thousand years; reckon all from Adam to this day. Great indeed is the multitude; but yet it is little, for the Angels are many more. They are the ninety and nine sheep, but mankind is the single one. For according to the extent of universal space, must we reckon the number of its inhabitants. The whole earth is but as a point in the midst of the one heaven, and yet contains so great a multitude; what a multitude must the heaven which encircles it contain? And must not the heaven of heavens contain unimaginable numbers ? And it is written, Thousand thousands ministered unto Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him Daniel 7:10; not that the multitude is only so great, but because the Prophet could not express more than these. So there will be present at the judgment in that day, God, the Father of all, Jesus Christ being seated with Him, and the Holy Ghost present with Them; and an angel’s trumpet shall summon us all to bring our deeds with us. Ought we not then from this time forth to be sore troubled? Think it not a slight doom, O man, even apart from punishment, to be condemned in the presence of so many. Shall we not choose rather to die many deaths, than be condemned by friends? (Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 15.24)

St. Ambrose of Milan ca. 338-397

Let us rejoice that the sheep which had strayed in Adam is lifted on Christ. The shoulders of Christ are the arms of the Cross. Rich is the Shepherd of Whom we are all the hundredth portion. He has innumerable flocks of angels, of archangels, of dominions, of powers, of thrones, of others whom He left on the mountains. Since these are rational, they fittingly rejoice in the salvation of men. (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to  St. Luke Bk. VII 209, 210)

St. Cyril of Alexandria ca. 376-444

He sought therefore that which was lost: and, to show that the Jewish fault-finding on this account was vain, He says unto them, “What man of you having a hundred sheep, and having lost one of them, does not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go to seek that which is lost. And if it chance to be found, he rejoices in it, He says, more than in those that went not astray.” Understand from this, my beloved, the wide extent of the Saviour’s kingdom, and the multitude past numbering of His subjects, and the skilful plan of the dispensation towards us. For the sheep, He says, are a hundred, so making the number of His subjects mount up to a multitude complete and altogether perfect. For constantly, so to speak, a hundred is a perfect number, being composed of ten times ten. And we have learnt also from the divinely-inspired Scripture, that a “thousand thousands minister to God, and ten thousand times ten thousand stand around His lofty throne.” The sheep therefore are a hundred: and of them one has gone astray, even the family upon earth; which also the chief Shepherd of all sought, having left in the wilderness those ninety and nine. Was it therefore because He had no regard for the many, that mercy was shown to the one only? No! not because He had no regard for them; that were impossible: but because they are in security, guarded by His Almighty hand. It was right therefore that mercy should rather be shown to that which was lost, that evidently nothing might be wanting to that other multitude, but the one being restored thereto, the hundred might regain its beauty.

The search therefore after that which was lost was no act of contempt towards those who had not erred, but one of grace and mercy and love to mankind fit for the supreme and transcendent nature to bestow on His fallen creatures. (Commentary on Luke, Sermon 106)

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