I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness… (Ezekiel 34:11-12)
There is something intriguing about those who work in Search And Rescue. This is the, mostly volunteer, job of people who spend their time and energy exhaustively looking for people who have turned up missing. They are dedicated. They are passionate. They perform this task at all hours. When you see them in movies, television or real life, you are cheering for them. You want them to succeed! They have compassion and love for the person who is missing. Sometimes these amazing people are being encouraged to “call off the search” and still they persist and keep looking. We admire their dedication in finding the missing person. We want to be like that person. Perhaps even deep down, we wonder if somebody will search for us if we went missing. These Search and Rescue heroes are similar to the model shepherd Jesus gives us when he shares the parable of the lost sheep.
What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? “And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:12-14)
From this text and others, we are informed that this type of search and rescue characteristic is the quality of a good shepherd. For some of us, it may seem a bit odd to search out for just one who is missing. A “me first” culture tells us if we have a majority present, we move forward. That same mindset would have told Jesus “Hey, you have ninety-nine sheep, just keep going, its just one!” After all, ninety-nine is a great number!
Yet, Jesus pauses and searches for the one that is no longer in the fold. He reminds us that even one matters. This missing sheep is worthy of His time, energy and resources. This same principle is true for those of us as who are shepherds and taking responsibility for spiritual well- being of others! Each one we are responsible for is worthy, because our Heavenly Father sees each one as worthy.
Do you notice in that passage, Jesus doesn’t share excuses or justifications about the sheep that went missing? Often times when someone is missing, our first question is why? Whose fault is it that the sheep went wandering in the first place? As if the reason, will help inform whether or not we will go searching for them. Now, the reason will assist us as we work to help reconcile a person back into fellowship and community with others (rescue), but it shouldn’t be the determining factor in us going after the one.
When we take on the responsibility of shepherding others, it means that there are going to be times when we need to actively participate in search and rescue. There will be times when those who are part of our cadre of care, drift away. Perhaps they go in search of greener pastures looking for another spiritual community. Maybe they have been hurt by somebody else and they don’t want deal with it. Perhaps they have committed some action (sinful or not), they are embarrassed, and they no longer feel they can be in fellowship with others. However we want to explain it, they have wandered away…
… And we need to go after them! When we know our sheep, we know who is in our care, we know who is missing! Good shepherds work to stay connected to those they are taking spiritual responsibility, but even the best shepherds will have people who “wander”. Good shepherds are found in how they respond to those times.
There is a story I love to share. I believe originated in the recovery community. It’s about a person who fell into a hole. It’s a big, deep, hole with steep sides. The person who fell tries hard to claw their way out to no avail. Just then a professor walks by, the person in the hole yells up, “prof, can you help me?” The prof throws down a book for them to read and moves on. Next, a pastor walks by. The person in the hole yells up, “pastor, can you help me?” The pastor writes out a prayer and throws it into the hole and moves on. Finally, a friend walks by, the person in the hole yells to his friend, “can you help me?”. The friend jumps into the hole. The person in the hole, confused, exclaims, “what are you doing! Now we are both down here!” The friend says, “Yes, but I have been down here before, and I know the way out”.
As shepherds, we need to get dirty and jump in the hole. We need to come alongside and help those who have wandered. Not just because this is the right thing to do, but also because somebody did it (and still does) for us! Even though we are taking on the responsibility and shepherding others, we never stop being a sheep.
As a shepherd, we never stop being a sheep. Even as we care for others, disciple and mentor, we never stop being the recipient of this. So as we look at this passage as a model for shepherding… Jesus extends compassion and care as shepherd has for their sheep by not only leaving the majority, searching and rescuing and then celebrating when it is back in the fold!. OUR Shepherd (Jesus) even gives us the posture we should have as sheep in these moments. In our life, sometimes we are the one sheep and other times we are one of the ninety-nine. When we are the one, we are so glad that someone has searched us out, is checking in with us and making sure that we are connected to the community. When we are one of the ninety-nine, our posture should be one of rejoicing.
Questions to consider
Think of a time when someone sought you out and helped you reconnect back in the community of faith. What did that do for you?
How can I be a model of rejoicing when someone who has drifted away from the community comes back in to the fold?
Are there people that I am caring for that I would “jump in the hole” with them?
Who are the people in my care that seem to be “wandering”?
Is there anything that keeps me from searching them out?