One of my favorite possessions is a small carved wooden statue, given to me as a present many Christmases ago. The little wooden figure depicts a man carrying a lamb on his shoulders. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded that the heart of God is more tender, compassionate, and kind that I could ever imagine. He loves us beyond our comprehension and deeply desires to rescue us.
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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 NIV, emphasis added)
Jesus is the faithful Shepherd, pursuing those who wander from Him like the shepherd of the parable pursues the one lost sheep. He finds us wherever we are, no matter how far or long we have run away from Him. We might expect that when He comes near, His expression might be one of deep disappointment, or even anger for wandering from the fold, but Jesus tells us a different story. He says that He rejoices, a face full of cheer and great joy, as He gathers us into His arms. “MY lost sheep“, He exclaims as we are claimed as His, a truly loved and precious treasure. In this parable, I hear something that calls out from the very core of who God is: He just wants to be together with us, He wants us to be safe in His loving care. We often choose, in big and little ways, to try to walk our own paths. But God calls us to Him and to His ways, out of an abundance of love for us, an incredible knowledge of what we need and what is to come, and a deep desire to be in relationship with us.
At the end of Jesus’ parable, He says that ‘Heaven rejoices move over one sinner repents than over the 99 that don’t need to repent’. As I’m sure we all know, Jesus is extremely well-aware of the fact that we are ALL sinners in need of His salvation. There is no ‘righteous person who does not need to repent’, instead, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). God knows that, in our humanity, we wander from the holy, best, and perfect path. But He gives us a dear truth in this passage: although He calls for us to always chose His ways (because He loves us and knows what’s best for us), what He’s looking for are humble, repentant hearts when we do fall. To humbly say: I messed up, I left the safe pasture of your leading and chose my own way. I don’t know how to get back without you. Come rescue me, Jesus. As soon as we do, His word says that He is right there, slinging us over His shoulder as He rejoices, ‘My sheep!’.