Uncle Paul remembers having a discussion with his dad, my grandfather, about my dad, who was always getting into trouble. Exasperated with his older brother’s behavior, Uncle Paul asked, “Why do you put up with him?” My grandfather, then the corps sergeant-major of the Corry, Pennsylvania, Corps, simply answered, “All I can tell you is that he is my son.” Grandpa’s steadfast love was rewarded when Dad finally yielded himself, once and for all, to Christ.
Steadfast love is much simpler spoken about than lived. It is much easier when the loved one behaves well, acts responsibly, returns love openly. Yet there are those prickly people, those ones that continually mess up, that almost dare you to love them. Who will love them?
The parable Jesus told, using sheep as the subject matter, was really about those kind of people, but it is also about our responsibility to seek them out.
What do sheep have in common with the incessant wanderer?
Sheep are easily lost. They have no sense of direction. Even if the sheepfold is in sight, they struggle to ﬁnd their way to it. They don’t mean to wander off, but when they see grass they are soon are off the path. They look up, confused about where they are. Realizing the danger, they panic. Every sound is threatening; every shadow looks like an enemy.
That’s how it happens for so many. Even in sight of the Kingdom, they struggle to ﬁnd their way. And when they are on the path, it isn’t long until some little attraction or slight temptation lures them away. They see the danger and grab for a drink, a drug, a psychic reading or a lottery ticket. The quick ﬁx, no matter how unlikely, is seen as a way to go to a place of safety.
Sheep are defenseless. If God ever designed an animal to be easy prey, it was this one. They can’t run well. They can’t ﬁnd their way. They have no defensive weapons like horns or fangs. Their only safety is the ﬂock. On its own, a sheep is just a target.
How often the sins that ruin a life are presented when people are most defenseless. The ﬁrst drink, the ﬁrst sexual encounter, the ﬁrst drug or outburst of violence usually happens while a person is still young. Though the young seldom realize how vulnerable they are, the drug pusher does. The beer commercials present an exciting life, not the drunk in the gutter. They prey on the defenseless, snatching them as early in life as possible in order to keep them as perpetual slaves.
Sheep left to their own devices will most likely need rescuing. They are hopeless without someone interceding. That is what this story talks about. The good shepherd notices his sheep is missing and knows that without immediate action, that sheep is lost forever. The parable says that having 99 sheep safe and one lost is not good math. Every single one of the sheep needs to be accounted for and safe.
Jesus was also addressing those who have the responsibility to ﬁnd them. Jesus’ enemies were listening, readily agreeing that a shepherd owed his sheep the rescue mission. But their regard for a dumb animal was more than they had for a lost soul.
To those who name Christ as Savior, know that you are called to seek the lost. This is not to be delegated, nor is the duty optional.
The shepherd has nothing on his mind but ﬁnding the lost sheep. It is not something to do after dinner or the day after tomorrow. He sees the sheep in his mind, considers where and how the sheep got lost and where he might be, hurrying to that spot. If the sheep is not there, he looks elsewhere. Nothing else matters but getting the sheep safely home to join the sheepfold. He does not have to read a book about how to do it, or convene a committee to consider the possibilities.
How do we seek the lost? If we could be as focused on the lost as some are on their smartphones, the Kingdom of God would explode with new converts.
When the shepherd ﬁnds the sheep, he does not scold it for being stupid or lecture it about getting what it deserved. No, he picks it up and carries it on his shoulders to safety. The sheep is not sought for its value to the world but because the shepherd loves it.
Can we understand the pain the Heavenly Father feels when one of His sheep is missing? The lost need to know our love for them. They need to sense the strength that comes from having a vibrant relationship with Christ. They need to feel God’s love, which is channeled through our hands and hearts and hugs. The parable concludes with this wonderful scene of rejoicing over the lost being found.
“When he [the shepherd] arrives [home], he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in Heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:6-7).
Heaven rejoices. Think of that. Every time a lost soul ﬁnds the Savior, a party erupts in Heaven!
If you are that lost sheep, know that there is a way home. Even if no earthly friend stands at your side, Jesus, the Good Shepherd is calling to you right now, ready to lift you on His shoulders and carry you to safety.
If you are one of those tasked to seek the lost, know that every lost sheep is worth the scrapes, the blood, the sweat, the strain. And know that when you bring that sheep home the party in Heaven will sound in your heart as well.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Editor–in–Chief and National Literary Secretary