Movement away from the flock, away from the shepherd is not always clothed with intent. Sometimes, it may be commotion in the herd, a sudden downpour, or a flash of lightning that spurs one running. It could be a geographic aberration, a dip, a mound, or a broken branch. It could be an enemy in a sudden strike of terror. Yes, it could be an enemy. Still, it could be that longing for foreign grasses that leads one astray.
Many of these lures can begin a time of separation… but more often than not it is a quest for something “tastier…” “Feels good,” “Tastes good.” “Smells good,” “Sounds good,” often act as shepherds themselves to begin a process of alienation from the True Shepherd.
In short order, any given sheep can find itself miles away from the sheepfold, from the identity of the flock, from the security of the Shepherd. And with each passing step, the Shepherd’s voice would fade a little more. Each passing day away becomes the harbored norm, and eventually, wayward desolation marks the desperate soul.
Still, in these cases the elusive soul finds itself in unknown territory, the green pastures having been exchanged for the afflictions of freedom, and the briars of choice.
The Shepherd knows that one of His own is amiss. And so, the search begins. The ninety-nine are left in the open pasture, the pursuit is engaged.
“So He told them this parable, saying, ‘What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance’” (Luke 15:3-7).
Where would the truant be found? In a thicket? On a precipice? In a mire? Or, near swift death? It cannot stage a sound defense, it can’t with swiftness flee. It cannot retrace its steps to safety. Its hollow bleating is left unmet well beyond the tender care of the Shepherd.
Still, the Shepherd seeks the lost. And, when He finds it…
Does He revile, does He discipline? Does He recount the many sins which led it thus? “What! Will He say nothing about grace despised, privileges abused, conscience rested, mercy scorned?” (Macduff). For now, it does not say… Still, the broken is recovered. The Shepherd reaches down, takes it in His arms to safety.
The parable speaks to the level of determination to regain the lost, to restore the soul. The fugitive is found, and reclaimed. Placed upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd for the journey home; He comes to lead us Home! Only then is silence broken as invitation is given to “Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost!”
The lost is counted among the flock; and celebration ensues across Heaven.