I find it interesting that of all the books of the Bible and of all the topics Mark could have planned out, months ago (long before coronavirus was known to us), he prayed and discerned that this Easter season the focus would be on the parables of Jesus. It is easy to cruise through them, as many of us have heard them multiple times. I myself have read them over and over to my children—sometimes, I admit, with impatience, as I struggle to explain the metaphors. However, the parable that often sticks with me (and coincidentally was on my heart prior to Mark’s sermon), is the parable of the lost sheep.
So Jesus told them a story: If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, 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 15:3-7 NLT)
It is easy to hear these stories and see ourselves in them. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus spoke in parables. In our mind’s eye, we automatically place ourselves where we think we ought to be. For better or worse, it is revealing of the heart. I have had those moments in my life of realizing that I am actually the late worker to the vineyard, I am the prodigal daughter who has wandered off and returned home, desperate for forgiveness.
But for some reason, with the parable of the lost sheep, I always place myself in the nebulous group of ninety-nine. This is not to say that I see myself as a “righteous sheep.” Actually, quite the opposite—I have seen myself as left behind. Not worth staying by to protect. A mediocre sheep that will likely do the right things even when the shepherd isn’t watching, but is not valued enough to actually be watched. I have been understanding of the lost sheep’s plight and even happy for the lost sheep’s return, all the while wondering, “Who was with me? Why couldn’t I have gone with You to find the lost lamb? Why was it just assumed I would be okay?”
It wasn’t until two Sundays ago that, by God’s grace, truth was revealed to me. Perhaps it has been reading the mind-numbing children’s version of the story over and over, or maybe it was just the right time for me to receive it. Whatever the reason, I finally realized it is I who am worth searching for. It has always occurred to me that others are worth searching for, but me? It’s okay, I understand! I sort of need you, too, but …please just come back soon! What a sweet relief to realize, I am both lost and found, simultaneously, over and over. As we all are.
This afternoon, three-year-old Josh saw me putting away our “resurrection eggs” (12 plastic eggs filled with symbols of the Easter story: a cross, pieces of bread, a small dinosaur as we don’t have a donkey). “Hey, I wanna do those!” he said with certainty. I put them on the counter as we carefully opened each egg and Josh told me the story of Easter. When we were done, he said “Can we do that again? I could just do this all day.” What a good reminder to myself, and I think to all of us. We need to remain encouraged. We need to seek the truth in scripture and in these parables even when it feels vulnerable. Even if it is uncomfortable and confronting. Even if that means going over The Story again, and again, and again…
“The Lord is my shepherd. I have all that I need” (Psalm 23:1 NLT).