By Steven Norris

In these days of pain, confusion, uncertainty, and fear, it is hard to know what to think or where to turn. A cartoon I saw this week caused me to stop in my tracks and inspired this reimagining of Luke 15:1-7 for our day:

After Jesus had been ministering for some time, a number of folks began to notice that many of the people hanging around Jesus just didn’t fit their preconceived idea of “good company.” They began to grumble about Jesus’ choice of friends and even rebuked him openly from time to time.

Hearing their concerns, Jesus sat down and decided to tell them a story:

“There was once a shepherd who had a flock of 100 sheep. He led the sheep into a green pasture with lush green grass and a gently flowing stream of cool water from which the flock could drink. The shepherd took great delight in caring for his flock. 

“As he surveyed all the individual faces, however, he couldn’t help but notice that one of the sheep had become separated from the flock – lost along the way. The shepherd left the 99 in the field to go in search of the one.”

“But wait a minute!” one of the religious teachers blurted out. “Why would this shepherd leave 99 sheep vulnerable to go looking for one? Didn’t he value the lives of all the sheep? Aren’t they all important?”

“Of course they are all important,” Jesus said. “Of course they are all valuable. But the one is in danger. The one is vulnerable right now. The one is hurting now.”

The religious leader sat perplexed, mulling over what Jesus had just told him. It just didn’t seem right. As the uncomfortable silence continued, Jesus spoke. 

“Are you ready for me to finish the story?” he asked.

The religious folk looked at one another, still confused, but not wanting to say anything. After a seemingly interminable pause, one voice reluctantly broke the silence, “Go ahead. We’re listening.”

“When the shepherd found the sheep, it was caught in a thicket. Bound, entangled, and held down, the sheep was unable to go free. The shepherd knew that he could not free the sheep by sheer force, so he climbed into the thicket to sit with his sheep. And as he sat there, joining the sheep, he slowly began to untangle the thick vines that were keeping it entrapped, one by one.

“Trust developed and the sheep and shepherd began working together, finding that the vines were no match for their combined efforts. When the last vine slipped loose, the shepherd was overjoyed. He picked up the weary sheep and placed it on his shoulders, knowing that it was exhausted from fighting for so long. As he carried the sheep back, he could feel its labored breathing slow and its heart return to a normal pace.

“The shepherd was wise and compassionate. He knew that his flock would not be complete until all its members were welcomed home and given their rightful and equal place among the lush grass and the cool stream. Therefore, he restored the sheep to its brothers and sisters.

“You go…and do likewise.”