The sheep is just doing what sheep do. It’s probably picking its way along an uneven path, following the ewe ahead of it, and somehow misses its footing on the side of a hillock. It could be injured from the fall or maybe caught in brambles at the bottom, but regardless, now it is alone and vulnerable. Time is of the essence.
When the shepherd realizes one of his flock is missing, he has to act quickly; he has a very narrow window of opportunity. He knows the other sheep will instinctively huddle together as a group and be safe, at least temporarily, so he hurries off to find the lost animal before it is picked off by a predator.
This is the part I love about the Biblical account in Luke’s gospel:
When the shepherd spots the missing sheep, he’s not irritated at the inconvenience. He doesn’t scold the sheep or strike it in anger with a rod. He doesn’t roughly shove it ahead of him back to the flock, muttering along the way.
We are told, “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.’” (Luke 15:5-6)
The shepherd knows his sheep are clumsy and weak. He knows they can’t protect themselves and are dependent on him. And he loves every one of them; not one is expendable.
Jesus, in telling this story, compares us to sheep and calls Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).
We wander and screw up and find ourselves vulnerable to predators. We are weak and use bad judgment and intentionally rebel. And Jesus comes looking for us, not to shame or humiliate us, but to put us on his shoulders and take us home. What a tender image!
We see this theme hammered home in other parables:
- The prodigal son squandered his father’s fortune and ruined the family reputation; yet when he returned home, the father “was filled with compassion” (Luke 15:20).
- The rich young ruler forfeited eternal life in exchange for material wealth, yet Jesus “looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21).
What’s missing in each story is shame.
We are the sheep, the prodigal, the young ruler. We wander, we stumble, we get our priorities tragically wrong. Yet Jesus never shames us. Instead He consistently shows love, joy, and compassion and longs to rescue us.
And the party the shepherd threw in the book of Luke to celebrate finding his lost sheep? That’s nothing compared to the gala in Heaven when we choose to let Jesus carry us home.
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- I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition - May 2, 2016
- The surprising thing about “weakness” - April 20, 2016
- The holiness of a four-way stop - April 13, 2016