The Parable of the Lost Sheep is often one of our favorites for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it’s because when we have lost our own way in the world, and have experienced God’s saving grace somewhere in the story, we know what the joy of being found feels like. Perhaps it’s because we so desperately want to believe that there’s always hope when those we love feel lost to us. Perhaps it’s simply because we want to believe in unconditional love. All the same, it’s comforting to hear of a Good Shepherd who loves us enough to go looking for us.
We are also reminded in this parable that God doesn’t gather from the center, God gathers from the margins–and to flip this parable on its head a bit–if God is out in the margins, shouldn’t we be also? Our tendency, I think, is to equate “lost” as being a bad thing–and yes, sometimes it is–but not always. The shepherd reveals a different kind of “lost” in his very un-practical idea to leave 99 sheep in the pasture, unguarded, to search for one–he’s lost in unconditional love for the missing sheep and his desire to bring all the sheep back in the fold–and in that sense, “lost” is a pretty wonderful thing.
By the same token, is it possible that the sheep out there in the periphery wasn’t finding what it needed in the company of the 99? It’s not unusual in this Christian walk of ours, to come to times and places in our life where it’s important to seek God in wilderness places. We find ourselves breaking away from the safety of the fold and exploring unfamiliar territory, and it is often in the margins where we encounter the people who truly lead us closer to God.
I wonder, if we can indulge in the notion that we could be like Dr. Doolittle, and have a conversation with that sheep, what it saw or encountered or discovered out there in the wilderness. I wonder what it had to report to the other 99. Did they listen intently, or did they go on with their comfortable lives in the center of the pasture, never exploring the edges, never straying away from “the way we’ve always done it”, never even imagining how their world might look differently with larger, more inclusive boundaries?
In this parable, we discover a reliable trust in the Good Shepherd, that we will be found if we are out in the margins for spiritual unhealthy reasons. At the same time, we can be empowered to leave familiar pastures and check out the wilderness that lies beyond if we desire to be lost in God’s unconditional love and seek those who need the reconciling love of Christ.
When is a time you discovered that you needed to be “lost” in the periphery in order to allow Jesus to bring you back to love’s center?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as Interim Pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.