The Good Shepherd
The year was 1947. A young Bedouin shepherd boy wrapped his kufeya, or scarf, snuggly around his face to protect it from the blowing sands as he stepped outside his family’s tent. Although the temperature exceeded 100’F here in the Judean desert this time of year, he was glad to be wearing his long, cotton robe, called a thobe by his elders who remained behind in the tent telling mostly true stories and laughing with ease. At least the thobe offered his flesh some protection from the blasting sands and scorching midday Arab sun.
The boy’s father had instructed him to take the sheep and goats out in search of some grass and water. The simple animals would sit in the sun and die before searching for basic necessities on their own. So he set out with his head bent into the wind.
But while he was pushing them through a narrow canyon, the unthinkable happened. One of the goats had wandered off on its own. The boy knew this because he had been trained by his father and the other elders of his tribe to continuously count his flock so that if one happened to stray he would know right away and could begin searching before it was too late.
The afternoon was already wearing on and the boy knew he would have to work fast if he was going to find the stray goat alive before dark settled on the canyon. If that happened, he would have to make camp where he could find shelter and spend the night in the wilderness. He thought of the tales spun by the old women of wolves, jackals, and leopards dragging off unsuspecting children in the night if they weren’t tucked into their beds tightly by dark. The boy was determined to find that goat!
The true story above, or some version of it, took place in the years following WWII. But thousands of years before, when the Judean desert wasn’t much different than it is today, Jesus taught us that He is a shepherd and we are His sheep.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11
And again, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” John 10:14
And in one of Jesus’ most famous lessons (known as the Parable of the Lost Sheep), He assures us that He would go to the ends of the earth to save just one of us who is lost.
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:3-7
As followers of Christ, our hearts ache for friends and family who do not know the Lord. We want them to enjoy the divine peace and love that we enjoy, and to know the security of an eternity in His presence. If we imperfect humans can love so intensely, imagine how fiercely the Father loves them and desires their company and their loyalty. He tells us that even one “lost sheep” gets His full attention until it is found and brought back into the fold.
Questions for thought
If you were backpacking the John Muir Trail with your family and realized that one of the young ones was missing, how would you respond? Would you simply say “it’s his choice” and press on? Or would you mobilize a search party with an acute urgency?
Are you a lost sheep, wandering far from the safety of the Good Shepherd? If so, believe that He has not given up searching for you. Nor will He ever.
Are there lost sheep among your friends and family? Have you given up hope for them? The Shepherd certainly hasn’t.
Father God, you are the Good Shepherd and you love each of us with an affection greater than any human love. You take head counts continuously and when one of us turns up missing, you drop everything to search for us. There is no place we would rather be than near the hems of your robe, where you can keep us safe. We trust that you will never stop searching for our loved ones who are not in the fold. May we never stop praying for them. Amen.