"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. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." Luke 15:4-7 (ESV)
Last Sunday had an inauspicious beginning. A child fell back into an old habit that we had hoped was broken. When I discovered it, I have to admit that I did not respond well. I was angry, though if I was honest with myself, the anger was really a convenient emotion when what I was really feeling was fear and despair. The child, in turn, did not respond well and was also angry, though that too was most likely more from fear than from anything else. The child was sent to bed and I sent myself to take a shower.
While in the shower, as I alternately spend some time praying for the child and justifying my own feelings of anger, the parable of the lost sheep came into my head. I know it was from the Holy Spirit, because it was an odd jump from my current thoughts, and I remembered being surprised by it. Figuring it was something I should pay attention to, I thought over the parable. While I knew the story, it was not a parable that I had spent much time really thinking about.
It's just a nice story, isn't it? Shepherd loves his sheep, one gets lost, shepherd finds it, everyone is happy. I don't know about you, but the whole lost sheep business never gave me a turn. I always imagined that one day as they were walking, the flock went one way and the lone sheep missed the turn and went another. The whole parable seemed to be based on a navigational error. No wonder everyone tends to skip over it and the lost coin to get to the story with the real drama, the lost son.
But what if the sheep left under his own volition? What if the sheep had been so unpleasant to everyone that the herd was just as happy to see him wander away? What if the sheep had made some pretty serious mistakes? It changes the story doesn't it? A human shepherd might just give up on such a sheep, figuring the sheep was far more trouble than it was worth. The question came to my mind, "Had I let one of my sheep wander away without trying to go after it?" The second question came hard on the first, "What if Jesus suddenly decided that I was more trouble than I was worth and stopped coming after me to bring me back again and again?"
It was a much more contrite mother who exited the shower that morning. There is nothing like having to come face to face with one's own ugliness to be more understanding of someone else's. And I immediately went and sought out my child and told that child of my love. Because I want to be like Jesus. I may be a difficult sheep, but He comes after me time after time. And so I will continue to go after the sheep in my own little flock whom He has entrusted to me. Time after time because they are each worth any amount of trouble.