Friday, May 20, 2022

I Wonder Where I’ve Wandered? The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Here we go!

“Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7 WEB)

Let's set the scene: "Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'" 

Stop right there. Jesus is a fascinating and yet irritating presence to the religious leaders. They watch in horror as the riff-raff of their community flocks to Him and listen to His words that seem to be cool water in a dry land for such thirsty people... They can't fathom why a rabbi would associate so freely with people who are so obviously disgusting to them and, of course, must be to God too.

What are the leaders probably thinking? 

We strive every day, God, to be good. We do all of the rituals You require and we even go above and beyond that. We work for You! Do You notice, God? Are You aware, with all due respect, of how much we strive? And then comes this hayseed from Nazareth, who seems to gather, without effort, those whom You despise. He seems comfortable with them--their smelly clothes, their dirty faces and their despicable habits. They seem to love Him. Love? You want order and obedience. Love? It’s not necessary. Love? We would rather be respected. Only we, O Lord, truly understand You.

What are the people probably thinking? 

We try every day, dear God, to be good. We tithe from what little we have and yet, in the faces of the leaders, we see nothing but scorn. No matter how much we strive, we see the utter disgust in their faces. We know we are so unworthy to even call upon Your Name. You seem so distant; but this Jesus seems to bring You so close, we can almost hear Your voice. Maybe Your voice is His. He doesn't notice our dirty clothes and ragged faces; we know we are not pleasant to be around--the leaders have made that plain enough. And yet, when we look into Jesus’ face, we see kindness, openness, and a sense that You do care for us, warts and all. Yes, our hands are dirty, but this Jesus is willing to clasp them and look in our eyes. We feel the scorn burning into our backs from the eyes of the leaders; so we just keep our gaze on His face...Are we seeing Your face, dear God, as well?

Everyone listening knows about sheep and how, if not watched carefully, the sheep will wander. How often did an errant sheep wander into town, because some shepherd's afternoon nap went on a bit too long? How often did a panicky shepherd come running into town, asking the townspeople if they had seen his sheep?  So, everyone could understand the wandering of a sheep and the fretful reaction of the shepherd. Isn't interesting, though, instead of talking about a shepherd out there, Jesus brings His audience into the story: "Suppose one of you..."

Yes, you: Mr. Obstinate Pharisee.

Yes, you: Mr. Scorned Tax Collector.

Yes, even you, Mrs. Despised Poor Woman.

Everyone is invited to imagine themselves in the place of the shepherd.

Now, Jesus poses a question. A shepherd doesn't just fret over the sheep. He needs to get a move-on and go out and find it! He will not rest until he does. The other ninety-nine are safe in the flock. The wandering one is subject to all kinds of dangers: wolves, falling into a ditch, being stolen... How many times had one of the townsfolk come across a sheep whose shepherd had not been able to find it, and found its body was rotting in the sun?

Everyone could picture the shepherd searching high and low for the sheep, having left the care of the other sheep to the other shepherds. He is focused on finding the one sheep. Why?

Each sheep is valuable. There is safety in numbers, but not value in numbers. Each sheep is as valuable as the next. No one sheep is inherently more precious than another. The shepherd knows each sheep and cares for each sheep's welfare. 

The shepherd doesn't say, Hey! I still have the well-behaved ninety-nine. They are staying in the flock, obediently grazing where I have told them to. What's one missing? Next spring, there will be more lambs to replace it...No big deal.

Far from it.  Our shepherd finds the sheep and puts it on his shoulder--"joyfully." He doesn't chide it, yell at it or condemn it for wandering away.

Do you notice that, Pharisees? Do you catch that, everyone?

Yes, it is always preferable to stay obediently in the flock, following the shepherd's direction. But, what if someone wanders away?

What if YOU wander away? Would YOU want to be yelled at? Would YOU want to experience scornful looks and judgement about how stupid YOU were for wandering away?

Wouldn't YOU want a joyful Shepherd scooping YOU up, placing YOU on His shoulders joyfully and triumphantly marching into town to tell everyone of YOUR rescue?

Doesn't the sheep know already of its inadequacies? The burrs in its wool, the scratches on its legs are reminders enough of how wandering off is not wise. The "tax collectors and sinners" are all too aware of how wandering off is not pleasant. No one has to remind them of that. Scornful looks and their own condemning hearts provide enough shame. 

The flock is content...perhaps too content. Perhaps they take advantage of the shepherd’s presence.

In a way, that’s good: they are so secure in his care that they graze in utter safety and assurance.

In a way, that’s not good: they are so secure in his care that they forget his diligence and willing sacrifice to make sure that they are utterly safe.

It's those who wander off that need God the most and feel His loving balm the most when they are recaptured by His love. Heaven rejoices! Why? Because the sheep knew it had strayed. It is willing now to come home with the shepherd and be restored to the flock.

Jesus looks at the listeners. Many of them have heads lowered, knowing that they have wandered from the Shepherd of their souls. Yet, in their troubled spirits, hope flutters--I can be forgiven and Heaven is rejoicing as I do!

Many of them are looking at Him, flummoxed. I am in the flock, obedient, and yet I am not in love with the Shepherd, only with my own goodness. Do I need to come home too?

Jesus' eyes scan the crowd. Are you willing to come home? Will you join Heaven and rejoice as others do as well?

I, the Shepherd, will never stop looking for His wandering sheep.

Jesus will press on with the next two parables--the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son, driving home the point of God values each one of us. His love extends forgiveness to each one of us. Yes, Heaven rejoices over the returned sheep, but do we, as the other sheep, open up our hearts as well?

Why wouldn’t the shepherd go out looking for that sheep? It’s a given. Why? The Shepherd deliberately goes out to find us because that is who He is: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) He couldn’t do anything else. He will look for every sheep that wanders away. Period.  His covenant driven love for us means that even if we wander away, He will come looking for us. He will keep looking, for He has bound His heart to ours.

Once He has brought us back into the fold, how will we be treated? Perhaps as we come back into the flock, we will get scornful and judgmental looks from the other sheep.  

The Shepherd accepts us, based on our repentance, which is simply agreeing that yes, we wandered off, and yes, we regret our actions. His response? “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.…” (Romans 8:1)

Our place in the flock is secured, based on His relentless love. He secured our freedom because of His love for us:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

But…once we are back in the flock, we cannot bring up our wandering. He has forgiven us and “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).

But…once we are back in the flock, the other sheep must accept us as well. Maybe they didn’t wander off…this time. But as they would like mercy when they return, so too must they give mercy when another one returns. Why? Look at the name of the pen we all are in: “Better Than The OK Covenant Corral.”

Do you listen to the sounds of Heaven drifting down when you return to the Savior of your soul? Is there any place He can’t find you? Walk through Psalm 139:1-18 & 23-4 (WEB) and realize with David that you are never beyond His loving reach. He is always there, ready to heal, forgive and strengthen you.

Yahweh, you have searched me,
and you know me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up.
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
but, behold, Yahweh, you know it altogether.
You hem me in behind and before.
You laid your hand on me.
This knowledge is beyond me.
It’s lofty.
I can’t attain it.
Where could I go from your Spirit?
Or where could I flee from your presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, you are there.
If I make my bed in Sheol, [the place of the dead] behold, you are there!
If I take the wings of the dawn,
and settle in the uttermost parts of the sea;
Even there your hand will lead me,
and your right hand will hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me;
the light around me will be night”;
even the darkness doesn’t hide from you,
but the night shines as the day.
The darkness is like light to you.
For you formed my inmost being.
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to you,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful.
My soul knows that very well.
My frame wasn’t hidden from you,
when I was made in secret,
woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my body.
In your book they were all written,
the days that were ordained for me,
when as yet there were none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is their sum!
If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand.
When I wake up, I am still with you…
Search me, God, and know my heart.
Try me, and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the everlasting way.

The Lord, my Shepherd, is always watching over His sheep.

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