September 15, 2013
Luke 15: 1 – 10
Sheep Number 98 turned to Sheep Number 99 and said, “They’re baaack.”
Sheep 99 looked up from the grass on which he was munching and saw their shepherd coming towards them. On his shoulders, joyfully placed, was a tattered and somewhat still panicked Sheep Number 100. Sheep 99 shook his head. “It’s always the same story. No matter how often Sheep Number 100 gets lost, he never learns, and our shepherd goes searching for him. The problem with Sheep Number 100 is that he doesn’t listen. What is the basic rule of our flock?”
All the sheep around him lifted their heads and cried out “Stick together!”
“Right.” said Sheep Number 99, “Stick together. That’s what our shepherd asks of us. But Sheep 100 never obeys. He simply does what he wants to do.”
Sheep Number 98 said, “I’m fed up with this. Let’s go talk to the shepherd.”
So the two of them went over to the shepherd. They found him seated still picking thorns and brambles out of the fleece of Sheep Number 100. “We’re unhappy,” they said.
“Really?” said the shepherd. “What’s the problem?”
“You’re never around anymore. You’re always going looking for Sheep 100. You know he’s never going to learn.”
“I have my hopes,” said the shepherd, placing Sheep 100 back on the grass and giving him a light pat on the rump.
“But what are we supposed to do while you’re out on the hills searching for the lost sheep?”
“Do you have food to eat?” asked the shepherd.
“Yes,” said the sheep. “But a wolf might come.”
“Has a wolf come?” asked the shepherd.
“No, but it could. We just don’t understand why you keep going out searching for Sheep 100.”
“I love him,” said the shepherd.
“Well, what about us?” said Sheep Number 98 and 99.
“I love you too.” said the shepherd. “I hope you know that.”
But Sheep 98 and 99 would not give up. “It’s because you love us and because we love you that we want you here, instead of out on the hills looking for Sheep 100. He has you all the time. What do we have?”
The shepherd sighed. “I haven’t forgotten you. I thought the gift that I gave you was obvious. . . .You have one another.”
There are times when you and I mess things up, times when we get lost in all kinds of nonsense. On those days we are Sheep Number 100. But on most days, we are among the 99. We try to keep the rules. We try to be attentive to our responsibilities as parents, spouses, and friends. We try to do what is right. So it can be difficult when God seems to be paying more attention to those who do not try to do what is right. It might be someone we know who is manipulative and self-serving and yet is tremendously successful, having money and living a life style that we could never hope for. It might be someone who is phony and deceitful and yet has more friends and influence than we have. It might be someone who does not contribute, never pitches in, and yet shows up at work, school, or church for some event and simply benefits off the work that other people have done. Why is it that people who lack integrity, generosity, and charity seem to be doing fine, while we who are trying to do what is right are barely making it? When you are in the 99, it is easy to become jealous of those who break the rules and are still blessed, of those who make poor choices and still claim God’s love.
The danger of being in the 99 is that we will resent the love and blessing that God gives to others and forget the love and blessing that God gives to us. The fact that God is caring for those who broke the rules does not mean that God has less love for those who keep the rules. The fact that God is searching for the one who is lost does not mean that God has forgotten those who are faithful.
Therefore the challenge for us is that instead of resenting what God has given to others, we should be thankful for what God has given to us. Our shepherd has provided for us. We have food. We have safety. And, yes, we have one another. Moreover, if we are successful in being people of integrity, generosity, and service, then those are gifts from God as well. When we truly recognize and are thankful for what we have been given, we have no reason to complain.
We will never stop God from going after those who are lost. That simply is who God is. But finding them is not forgetting us. We must remember that God’s care and love are infinite. So there is always enough love for those who wander, and just as much for those who remain.