“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? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:4-5)
This is a crazy story. Who decides that 1 is more important than 99? Who leaves the 99 out in the open country to search for the 1 that is lost? Sure, it makes sense to search for the lost, but no one in their right mind leaves the 99 out in the open country without someone watching out for them or taking care of them while they go search for only 1. If one does this, they might find the 1 and lose 10 more in the process; or 20 more, or even all 99. It’s just not smart business; not common sense. Who actually searches for the one who has fallen away and then welcomes them back and throws a party for friends and neighbors after they are found safe. There should have been scolding. The sheep should have been dragged back on a leash. This is no time for carrying the sheep on your shoulders, or coddling it in your arms. This is a crazy story.
But it’s also a beautiful story. In fact, it’s beautiful because it’s crazy. It’s beautiful because it doesn’t make sense. It’s beautiful because no one would ever say this is a good idea, or this is a sound way to protect the flock, or even this is the proper way to be a shepherd. It’s beautiful because no one would ever think to respond in this way…but God does. God thinks the 1 is just as important as the 99. God thinks the 1, no matter who the 1 is, is worth searching for; and worth dying for. God thinks the 1 is the only one that matters…in fact God thinks every one is the only one who matters.
This story is crazy and beautiful…because it’s our story. We are the ones who have wondered off. We are the ones who have committed sin. We are the ones who have not always been faithful to the covenant. We are the ones who have let our anger, greed, and pride get the better of us. We are the ones who have succumbed to lust, envy, and hate. We are the ones who have committed sins that we don’t want to tell others about, and we try to hide, because we are ashamed. We are the ones who at times wonder if God could really love us, really forgive us, and really accept us back into the family.
We even wonder at times if the story is even true, or just a fairy tale. Does God really love us with a never-ending unconditional relentless love? Will God really search for us when we are lost, no matter where we are, and when we are found, carry us back to the safety of the family? Will God really continue to accept us, in spite of our sins, our mistakes, our faults, and our shortcomings?
At times we wonder if any of the story is true. Yet, deep down inside we know the truth. We know the truth that the Good Shepherd really does love us and will search for us. We know the truth that in God’s eyes, we are worth dying for. We know the truth that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how many mistakes we’ve made, and no matter how grotesque or painful our sins have become, when we wonder away from the flock, the Good Shepherd will stop at nothing to search for us and bring us home.
Thus, I’m thankful.
I’m thankful for a shepherd who knows me: who knows my name, my tendencies, my hopes and dreams, my struggles, and who loves me through it all.
I’m thankful for a shepherd who is more concerned with searching after the lost than maintaining the security of the faithful.
I’m thankful for a shepherd who risks everything, who wades into danger, to find me no matter where I’ve roamed.
I’m thankful for a shepherd who loves me, searches for me, and rejoices when I’m safely back home.
Perhaps a sign I saw recently sums it up best: Jesus leaving the 99 to find the 1 seems illogical, irrational, and senseless…until that 1 is you.
Thank you God for being a good shepherd!