February 27

(God says) I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:16 

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? Matthew 18:12

Ah, all those lovely sheep grazing on the hillside. Happily munching away on the good green grass and the forage the shepherd provides, they haven’t a worry in the world. Their shepherd makes sure they have good water to drink, a safe place to eat and sleep, and of course, lots of other sheep just like them to play with. There is that annoying sheepdog, but she is only there to protect them from danger and move them to new grazing areas (and yes, to the shearing pen) under the shepherd’s direction.

But, a sheep has gone missing, one has gone astray! Sheep do not like being alone; when we do herding trials with those hard working sheepdogs there are 3 or 5 sheep in a group. If one gets separated it usually panics and tries to get back with the others. So, why would a sheep go astray? Perhaps it thought the grass was better in another area, perhaps it was busy looking at something when the flock moved on, and perhaps the sheepdog was not paying attention to it as it watched over the others with the shepherd.  Or maybe something else.

There could be other reasons the sheep is no longer with the flock; maybe there is something different about this sheep. The others in the flock are no longer welcoming it as a part of their flock, they may tease and bully it (ok, this is more true of people than sheep) and so it leaves. In a couple of cartoons I have seen recently as Jesus comes to rescue the lost sheep, the sheep tells Him that “I am not lost; I left because I was not welcome anymore.” Jesus comes for all the sheep. It doesn’t matter if they have been fairly faithful and stayed in the flock following the shepherd’s directions, or if they have totally left the flock due to distractions, temptations or just the pain of not being welcome anymore.

Ezekiel lets us know that God will seek us out when we are lost, will bring us back as we stray, will heal the injured and sick and will give us strength. Just as the good shepherd watching over the flock of sheep, with the help of the sheepdog, protects and brings back the strayed, our Good Shepherd watches over us, with the help of the Holy Spirit that God sent as our Comforter, and brings us back to the fold. To the fold, with all the other sheep, whether we like them or not, we are all God’s creation and all are precious to Him.

Good Shepherd of the sheep, thank you for the comfort and assurance we find as we remain in your fold. When we go astray, we know you will seek us out to bring us back. We pray that those who are lost may turn to you and find peace and strength as you seek them too. Help us to be your hands and feet to reach out to those who need help to find their way to you; give us the courage to seek them out as you would. In the Shepherd’s keeping, Amen. 

Chris Gabel