All four gospel writers confirm that one of the agricultural images Jesus used to convey the relationship between God and His people was that of a shepherd and his sheep. Kings and monarchs were often referred to as shepherds of their people, so this was a common analogy. But Jesus takes it beyond simply an honorific title and teaches something about the love of the Father and our wayward hearts.
Pastoral language speaks of calm, comfort and peace. But as the coiners of the term ‘sheepeople’ would remind us, being called a sheep is not any kind of praise. But it is pretty accurate. I was reading Geoffrey Grogan’s commentary on Isaiah last month where he describes our shared “willful yet purposeless wandering”.
That strikes home. I want to do things my way, even if (sometimes, especially if) I have no idea what to do or where I am going. I am lost and do not wish to be found. This relentless and ignorant independence surely ought to gall my Good Shepherd. Yet He declares,
“If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
God does not give up on us. Hallelujah! And neither should we give up on each other, even if another person gives us little sign of hope. My mother-in-law had the gift of always perceiving potential in an individual, the stamp of God’s image where others (read I) only say the slow, the wayward and the rebellious. The truth is God loves each and every one. This is the soil that makes my relationship with Him possible and it is the very thing that ought infuse my soul, to mark my interactions with others. The grand possibility of it all.
Lord, open my eyes.