The Parable of the Lost Sheep
What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy6and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. (Luke 15:2-7).
I love all sorts of animals, especially those that follow you home. When I was a little girl, I was the one who would turn up at home with some little critter behind me, beseeching Mom, “Can’t we keep it please!” Her answer was always the same. “Take that filthy thing back where you got it! It probably already has a home.” They weren’t all filthy but in some instances, she may have been right. They might have followed me home from someone else’s front porch. All my pleading was to no avail….until I was into my high school years.
We had a neighbor who always had black lab dogs. One, in particular, Coco, would come over to our house equipped with her own ball to play. She’d drop her ball at the back door and bark until she had the anticipated result and to a family of kids who grew up primarily without pets, she was a God-send.
Sometime during these years, she acquired a shaggy friend. He was big, brown, and fearful, and followed Coco everywhere. We called him The Brown Dog but Mom just called him Filthy. “John, there’s that filthy dog again! Get rid of it!” My brother would obediently run out and throw league balls at the dog to scare it away. It always came back though with Coco, watching from a distance as we played a friendlier game of ball with his friend.
I watched this dog with great curiosity. I had long given up on bringing pet candidates home, knowing what the answer would be. But this dog was a neighborhood stray that had established its territory. It wasn’t going anywhere, at least not as long as Coco was around. So I watched and observed. I contemplated what would make this big brown dog so dedicated to Coco, even in territory that made it fearful. He never came near, but always watched from a safe distance, a look of curiosity in his ungroomed face.
A Dog’s Fear
One day I decided I was putting an end to this dog’s fear. Coco had come over with her ball and we proceeded to play, as The Brown Dog watched. We had our game and I proceeded to lavish on Coco with loving scratches behind her silky ears and many kind words of affection. The Brown Dog watched on and as he did, I held my hand out toward him as a gesture of invitation. In a flash, he was gone. I didn’t give up though. The next day and the next was more of the same. Each time he responded less fearfully until one day his curiosity could take it no more. He came so close as to sniff my hand. But success was not to be. As I made a move to pet him, fear took over and again he was gone. By weeks end though, I had overcome his fear and as I moved to scratch him behind the ears, he succumbed, and his response was overwhelming. Wow, no cruel words, no league balls pelting him, just kindness. He melted. From that point on he was ever-present, watching for me, following me to school and even gaining access to look for me, and as neighbors complained to the authorities about this big brown dog, he actually attained his own street address. They all knew where his new hang-out was.
“The dog goes or I go!” Well, Mom and The Brown Dog both stayed to which we were all thrilled (for both of them)! He cleaned up pretty nicely and such a dedicated dog I have never met. In winter, Dad put a harness on Brownie (his name never officially changed, just got shortened) and he pulled my teenage brother down the snowy street on our radio flyer sled. This was quite a return to the boy who threw balls at him. Once, Dad took Brownie with to visit friends quite a few miles away. He was put in their backyard as Dad visited in the house. Poor guy thought he was left and was missing when Dad ended his visit. Brownie had jumped the fence and ran all those miles home. He could not be made rid of so easily. Another incident with Brownie should be mentioned. Dad had a business with a friend in Arizona. The business had been broken into so it was decided to bring in a guard dog for a few nights. Brownie seemed the only logical choice so Dad flew him out to Arizona, left him in the business office and locked up for the night. The next morning, no burglars were caught but there was an awful lot of damage. Brownie had watched as his master had left him and proceeded to scratch a rather large, dog size hole into the door he had last seen Dad leave through.
A Dog’s Dedication
Many years have passed and Brownie is long gone, but I have thought about him often, reflecting on what made him so dedicated. Since knowing him, I do believe that strays often make the best pets. They know what it is to be on the outside, looking in and to be rejected, fending for themselves, quite often treated uncharitably. You would think that they would reject any attempts to tame them, to befriend them, and remain untrusting, but no. Shown love and kindness, they give their all. They never want to be on the outside of the family looking in again. They may have been born a stray or they may have had a family mistreat them but the desire to be a part of the pack is born into who they are, what God made them.
The Good Shepherd
Isn’t that the same for us? Haven’t we been either born a stray or been treated uncharitably and yet have this God-given desire to be part of the pack, or more accurately, part of The Fold. I know that for myself I spent much too long of a time on the outside of the safety of the sheepfold, away from the Good Shepherd, always craving His safety but not knowing how to find it, untrusting and fearful. I had never fully been a part of the fold. Some people leave it as they have been lured away by a wolf in sheep’s clothing or worse yet they have been hurt by a wolf in shepherd’s clothing. Whatever the reason, The Good Shepherd comes looking for us, determined to quell our fears. He was not the one to hurt us and yet He is the one willing to sacrifice all to have us back in the safety of His fold.
I recently heard a story told by a priest. Years before, he had spent some time with a friend on a farm. A calf was born in the fields, away from the safety of the barn. He went off with his friend in search of the calf. When found, the only way to bring in the calf was to haul it over his shoulders, like the Good Shepherd carrying His sheep. The calf, frightened of what was happening to him would struggle but to no avail. Doing what anyone would do in his place, the calf, in his fear, released his bladder. The warm stream trickling down this young priest’s neck, into his hair and clothes, and still, he did not let go of his burden until they were in the safety of the barnyard. His reflection on the experience was quite profound. Christ, going in search of His long lost sheep humbles himself and carries us off struggling. As we struggle in our sinfulness and fear, we urinate on our very Savior. Yet, He patiently continues to carry us, only wanting us to be safe within His Fold where he can heal us.
The Good Shepherd, My Champion
Whether we relate to being a stray dog or a sheep or calf, we feel we have a reason to be on the outside looking in. But where does our heart truly long to be? For myself, I am so grateful for the patient deliberation of The Good Shepherd, my champion. He overcame all of my fears, my mistrust, my struggles. He has lovingly brought me into the fold and I find myself thinking of my old dog Brownie. I know what it was to be on the outside of this amazing family and never want to be out there again. I wish I could say I would be as dedicated as that old dog. I pray for that. I want to do all that The Shepherd asks of me but to my great dismay find I still fail Him. Thankful for His great ocean of mercy, I try again. The fear of being away from my champion is, I believe, enough to keep me right where I am. Maybe He can do something good with me. Who knows, maybe someday I will grow up enough to be more than just a returned stray, but of one of those great shepherd dogs, helping my champion bring in the lost sheep.