I’ve always struggled with the parable of the lost sheep. It’s partly because although it was everyday experience 2000 years ago, I’ve never tended sheep nor met anyone anywhere who would qualify as a shepherd. It’s also hard because it seems foolish to leave ninety-nine sheep at risk, just to find one that had strayed.
But then I consider families who have a seriously ill child. The parents don’t abandon their other children, but they make tremendous sacrifices to get the best care possible. They may, for instance, leave other children with relatives while they travel to a particular treatment center. They may rely on friends to drive kids to activities while they transport the sick child to appointments, chemo, or doctors. They forego family vacations, devoting all family resources to their child’s life and health. Of course, if one of the other children truly needed something, they would try mightily to address that need as well. But the entire family is willing to sacrifice in order to get the one child back, doing whatever they can to return their child to the “flock”. And if they are successful, there is great rejoicing indeed!
In this parable, we aren’t told what provisions the shepherd made for the safety of the 99 while he was gone, but that isn’t the point anyway. The lesson is about God, not us. We all stray (sometimes significantly) or we may be in tremendous need due to circumstances. Yet no matter what we do or how far we go, God intensely longs for us and actively searches to find ways to bring us back home. Like the parents of the ill child, God’s love knows no bounds, God will sacrifice anything, and God will follow us even when we refuse to follow God. And we are called to act in the same way, not just for a family member in need but for all.
The challenge: Am I part of God’s “search team”, or am I quick to give up on another person when they have gone astray, sinned, or abandoned the practice of their faith? How securely do I cling to my own abundance, rather than risking what I own for a higher good? Do I allow myself to even see the need? In what ways can I change to become the embodiment of the parable’s shepherd on earth, allowing God to use me to gather the lost, forsaken, and lonely persons of this world?
These are tough questions, but we dare not ignore them. As individuals and as faith communities, we are not called to remain within our private pastures. We are sent out into the world, to search for God’s beloved children, let them know they are loved, and bring them back home.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.