In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. A shepherd goes out searching for his sheep when he realizes one is lost, and once he finds it, he rejoices. He lifts it onto his shoulders and carries it to safety. John wrote that Jesus called himself the good shepherd. And most of us know the beginning of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.”
But in modern American culture, we are limited in our understanding of sheep and shepherds. However, I recently had an experience that I think helps me understand the analogy a little better. While I was in another room of the house, making preparations for a family trip, I heard the front door open and close. Immediately I went to the living room to see what was going on, and I quickly realized my two year old son was missing. I looked out the front door, and to my horror, saw him gallivanting across the street with nothing on but a diaper and a pair of mismatched socks. My heart dropped, my mama bear instinct kicked in (or perhaps I should say my shepherd instinct!) and I ran out the door, calling his name. When I reached him at the other side of the street, I scooped him up in my arms, held him to me so closely and so tightly, and thanked God he was okay. Like the shepherd who found his lost sheep, I rejoiced and carried him to safety.
It is worth noting that sheep, just like my toddler that afternoon, are not really aware that they’re putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations. They do not realize what could happen to them. This is why they need a shepherd to protect and guide them. The shepherd used his rod and staff to fight off predators and lead the sheep in the direction they should go. Psalm 23 references this as well: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These items were a comfort to the sheep, an assurance that the good shepherd would do everything in his power to protect them and lead them. Likewise, as a parent, I will do everything in my power to lead and protect my children. I will go out searching for them if they are missing, and I will fight anyone and anything that gets in my way. I am their shepherd, gently leading them and fiercely protecting them.
Later, as I reflected on it, I felt as though God was reminding me that this is his heart toward me, toward all of us. God is my good shepherd, the one I can trust to guide and protect me. Notice that the shepherd in the parable does not become angry and punish the sheep once he finds it. Not even close. He rejoices! Many times in my life, I have wandered in the wrong direction and put myself in harm’s way. And God has never punished me for it or decided not to look for me. He has found me, he has protected me, and he has returned me to safety. He loves me– like the good shepherd loves his sheep, like parents love their children.