I’ve been talking with more and more people lately about this scripture. It’s one of the more well-known parables that Jesus shared with the world, and it’s one of the shortest but it truly means everything.
Luke 15: 1-7 (NIV)
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.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Okay, so is this story really about a sheep? Or is it about us? I can say for certain that it’s specifically about ME.
Did the sheep in the story deliberately get lost, do you think? Do you think the sheep looked at the shepherd one day and decide, “Hey, I know it’s nice and safe here and all my needs are met, but I’m OUTTA HERE.” Now, I know that sheep aren’t the brightest bulbs in the animal kingdom, but I don’t think the sheep went and got lost on purpose.
Here’s what I think happened… I think the sheep was pretty content with his shepherd and the rest of the flock, as many of us are when we first get to know God, or first get baptized, join a church, etc. And we’re out there with the flock and we’re nibbling on the grass, and then a patch of grass a little further off looks kind of tasty so we go nibble over there. But we can still see the flock, and we can kinda still hear the shepherd’s voice. And then a patch of grass a little further off looks even better… and a patch even further off looks really delicious… and we nibble, and we nibble… and before we know it, we look up and…. we don’t see the rest of the flock. And we can’t see the shepherd. And we look, and we listen but we can’t hear his voice anymore. Then we realize…. we’re LOST! We wander around, maybe we cry out, but we’re out there alone and it’s scary!
Here’s where the good news comes in, though. We have a shepherd who loves us. He loves us so much that he doesn’t just sit there thinking, “Well, I still have the 99 that didn’t wander off, that’s still pretty good.” No, he comes out looking for us when we’re lost. He searches for us, and when he finds us he doesn’t scold us for wandering off, and he doesn’t put a rope around us and drag us back, either. He knows we’re probably exhausted in every way possible by then, so he picks us up, puts us over his shoulder and carries us back to the safety of the fold. And he does it joyfully! He celebrates that we’ve been found!
This is what Jesus does for us. Yeah, we wander off sometimes. The world is a place full of distractions and shiny objects and tasty clumps of grass to lure us off, but we have a Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock. We have a Shepherd who comes looking for us when we get lost. And he always welcomes us back with joy and celebration.