Read Isaiah 53:1-6
Have you ever tried to corral sheep? I had a friend who had a small flock of sheep. One day I assisted him in attempting to move the sheep from a small pasture into a building so they would be ready for the shearers. The task was a monumental one. Each time we would get a majority of the sheep headed in the correct direction, one or two of them would break away to go their own direction. When you tried to bring those back to the flock, the flock would scatter because your attention was in another direction. Quickly I understood the value of one or two sheep dogs.
The writer of Isaiah clearly understood the nature of sheep. He uses the imagery of scattering sheep to describe the state of our being. We have gone astray and the Servant has paid the price for our going our own way. This passage is part of a whole section usually entitled the Suffering Servant portion of Scripture. Many biblical interpreters link what is described here with the experience of Jesus Christ.
The realization that out of great love forus, Jesus was willing to endure suffering and even death to ensure we are brought back to God’s flock is humbling. Our desire to go our own way is a strong one. We frequently convince ourselves that we know what is best for us. Instead of being guided by the Spirit into the safety of the Lord’s way, we break out in a different direction, endangering ourselves and potentially others. Jesus brings us back through his suffering and obedience to God. He shows us the way home.
Read John 10:22-30
Dogs are terrific animals to have as pets. Their loyalty and bonding with their human families create a sense of security. Each dog has its own personality which becomes visible in a relatively short amount of time after they enter a home. A dog is keenly attuned to his/her human’s voice, routines, and emotions. The dog is able to identify their human even before seeing them with their eyes. Where a cat shows a high level of independence, a dog appears to be very dependent upon the owner.
In today’s passage, we encounter Jesus in the temple courts during the Festival of Dedication. A group of Jews are asking Jesus to plainly state whether he is the Messiah or not. Jesus indicates that he has demonstrated the answer but they failed to believe since they were not his sheep. If they were his sheep, they would recognize him. He continues by telling them that his sheep will receive eternal life and never be taken from him.
Jesus uses the image of sheep because most of his listeners had sheep which they tended or were familiar with owners of sheep. Today, I imagine Jesus would reference dogs instead of sheep because few of us own or are around sheep. The concept of recognizing the owner applies with whichever animal is used.
We are to be Jesus’s sheep/dogs. Jesus has claimed us through the acts of love on the cross. As his own, we strive to recognize Jesus. This recognition develops as we see the Lord in the lives and actions of others. Hearing his voice in the words of other people and seeing his love in the midst of actions taken are how we see and hear him. As we witness and join in these things, we follow the Lord. Being one of the Lord’s own offers us eternal life. We have security in this life and what follows because nothing or no one can snatch us from the Lord.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
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.
8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”Luke 15:1-10 (NIV)
Have you ever had the experience of misplacing an important item, maybe car keys, your wallet, your identification, or your bank cand? I begin a deep search, retracing my steps, getting frustrated with myself, and worrying in large degrees. I am unable to rest or relax until the lost item is found.
We hear about such a frantic search in our passage for today. Jesus teaches using two stories. The first is about a lost sheep and the shepherd searching for it while leaving the rest of the flock behind. The second story is in regard to a woman who seeks out her lost coin. In both stories, the seeker rejoices greatly when the lost is found. Jesus tells those gathered that this is the reaction of God when one sinner repents.
Jesus’s message here is great news for each and everyone of us. There is not a person among us who has not been that lost sinner who Jesus refers to here. In fact, some of us get lost after having been found so we need to be searched for again. Our Lord will not relent on the search for each person. There is no limit to the number of times the Lord will search.
This leads to rejoicing all around. God rejoices every time a lost one is found. We rejoice in the knowledge that we are so valuable to the Lord that there is a search which never ends and will be repeated if necessary. We should also rejoice each and every time the lost one is found.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. 
12 “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? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.Matthew 18:10-14 (NIV)
Lately on an online neighborhood communication group to which I belong, there appears to be a large number of posts about lost dogs. Being a dog lover, every time I am alerted to a new post about a lost dog, I read the post carefully to see location and description in case I am able to assist. I know that if either of my dogs wandered away, I would do everything in my power to find them. Seeing a new post causes me to have empathy for the family who is missing their beloved dog. The frantic feeling which I would have in such a situation is surely what the family is experiencing. All of this is due to the great love which I have for each of my dogs, and dogs in general.
Jesus speaks of such a love, not for a dog but a sheep. In fact, Jesus is using a sheep as a symbol for a human being. Jesus states that just as a shepherd would leave a flock of ninety-nine to find a sheep who has wandered off, God would search for the one person who has wandered away from God. The shepherd searches for economic reasons and an attachment which may have formed. God’s search is purely a result of the great love which God has for every single individual. Trusting that the many will be safe within their fellowship, the Lord goes to endless length to find the wandering one.
I am so grateful that Jesus told this story. This brings me great comfort and assurance of the depths of God’s love for me. While I have spent much of my life in the fellowship of the many, I have also had times when I have wandered away. There have been times in which I have lost my way in life. There have also been times when I have left the path of my faith journey while wandering aimlessly. Only by the Lord finding me have I been able to return.
How about you? Can you recall when you have been part of the 99? When have you been the wandering sheep?
When I see an update on any of the posts concerning the lost dog, if the update confirms the reunion, I rejoice. I can only imagine the relief which the family must be feeling. The feeling of great joy must fill the home once again. Jesus says that when the lost one is found, there is much happiness. I am sure the Lord celebrates greatly each time one of us who wanders is safely returned.