Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 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? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
(Matthew 18:10-14 NRSVUE)
When I was a high school freshman, our marching band traveled to the Ohio State Fair to participate in one of the parades. After our performance, my friends and I were happily enjoying all the fun and food of the fairgrounds. Our group eventually passed a restroom, and I told them I needed to stop for a few minutes. I naively expected that they would wait for me – but when I came back outside, they were gone. I frantically looked all around the area but couldn’t find them.
Reflecting on this now, I understand their excitement to continue on their way. I also recognize that I wasn’t the most popular or exciting friend. But I had a miserable afternoon as I roamed the fairgrounds, timid and alone, until I met a group of older band members who kindly let me come along. When I met my friends back at the bus to return home, no one mentioned that they had missed me or wondered where I was. I felt alone, unloved, and excluded.
After this experience, I have found comfort in the story Jesus tells of the shepherd with the lost sheep; the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep in the fold to seek out the one who is missing.
I recently read this story again, and I noticed that we are not given a reason why this sheep went astray. I have usually regarded this lost sheep as being foolish, contrary, or stubborn – but in the verses leading into this story, Jesus is speaking of humble, innocent, little children, as well as our responsibility to look out for them.
Yes, this lost sheep could have been contrary or stubborn. But this sheep could also have been ill, injured, unaware, detained, or distracted. This particular one may have been timid and quiet, unnoticed by others. The flock may have even shunned this sheep for a flaw or weakness.
No matter the reason, the shepherd misses the sheep and makes every effort to bring it back. What a gift to know we have this Friend who will always watch over us, never abandon us, and never give up on us. We are never alone or forgotten.
As always, the story assures me of the constant, watchful, welcoming, inclusive love of God. But today I find another insight. Like a good shepherd, I am to keep a watchful, generous heart for the lost, lonely, errant, or left behind. And I am to reach out with a heart that is empty of judgments and assumptions – to welcome in with a heart that is full of God’s healing, restoring, all-embracing love.
A generous heart is always open, always ready to receive our going and coming. In the midst of such love we need never fear abandonment. This is the most precious gift true love offers – the experience of knowing we always belong.
― Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions
Photo by Robert Ramirez on Unsplash
Back in those dear awful days,
this was just the way it was,
this was how the honour lays:
we all come back, or no-one does.
Returning from that neighbourhood
was pretty nasty, say the least,
’cause the paradigm of good
stayed in the belly of the beast,
and the folks on civvy street
seemed to be of colder mind,
and in exchange for shiny treat
would gladly leave their mums behind,
and we learned, so strange to tell
of life’s best meaning found in hell.
Another wonderful post! I can relate. I was definitely not the cool kid in school and often wondered if my friends would care if I wasn’t there. But as you point out, God cares. He loves us no matter what, even when we do go astray or are ignorant at times of His teachings. I feel incredibly blessed to have finally found my way to the Church.
Thank you – and thank you for sharing your mutual experience! God is good. Bless you!
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Loved ur post and scripture u shared. Liked how u shared ur own life experience. I too can identify. We r never alone and we r loved! LOVE all ur insights. Thank u for sharing ur heart!💕
Thank you, my friend! You kindly share your heart with me, too. ❤️
I do not think I ever related to Jesus searching and finding the one lost sheep. Your story brings it to real life. My wife and I are caregivers for our year old handicapped daughter (great mind in a very poor body), she was always ditched when trying to fit in somewhere as she grew up . Wheelchair bound. I shall read this to her as we often talk of these dynamics. She understands.
Oh Gary, thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own experience (and your daughter’s). Your family is now engraved on my heart.
I’d like to add that I’m glad we connected here. Your posts are inspirational, lovely!
May the shepherd story refresh you and your daughter. ❤️
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