At the 2pm service on Tuesday, the familiar story of the lost sheep, in Matthew’s version, was told. We are used to the idea that the shepherd, God, will go looking for the one which is lost, leaving the 99 others. On finding the lost sheep God rejoices. Finding the lost sheep, the brother or sister who has wandered from the path of life, is not just God’s task. He enlists us to help him. This may be a challenging task to undertake but we each have the responsibility to bear one another’s burdens.
The readings were Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 96:1, 10-end, Matthew 18:12-14. The reflection which I shared is given below:
The sound of drawers being opened and closed, cupboard doors being treated the same way, loud sighs and increasingly impatient footfalls is a good indication that something is lost. It’s very worrying at times to lose something, especially if it’s something valuable and important. Anyone who has lost their passport just before an impending journey abroad will know how frustrating it is. Any parent who has lost sight of their child on a shopping trip will recognise the feeling of panic until they are found.
Once the lost item or child is found there is relief and gratitude and elation. It’s this kind of emotion that Jesus is ascribing to God when he finds one lost sheep of his one hundred. We don’t love the found child any more than the ones who didn’t go astray, but the feeling on initially finding them it very strong. Likewise, God loves all one hundred sheep, but he rejoices greatly when he finds the lost one.
Of course there are other emotions around when a child is disobedient and leaves our side, even though they may be old enough to know better. There is an element of anger and perhaps frustration that parental teaching on safety has not had the desired effect. Even while searching, a desperate parent may also be saying, ‘Just wait till I find him again, I’ll tell him!’ There’s a wish to teach the child a lesson, to show them what effect their behaviour has had.
The wandering sheep in this parable is one who belongs to the flock, so not someone who is outside the community of faith but one who has a place there. The sheep who ‘went astray’ is actually one who has been ‘enticed to wander – especially from the truth’ if we look at the meaning of the Greek word. That turns things round a little. The picture becomes one rather like something that many parents warn their children about – the stranger who offers sweets in order to tempt a child to go with them. The lost sheep has not so much chosen wilfully to wander but has been persuaded to do so.
Who might do the enticing? Ezekiel had a lot to say about corrupt shepherds who didn’t care for the sheep as they should but instead teach them wrongly. He looks towards the time when the good shepherd will come and care for the sheep in the right way, with tenderness and compassion just as God describes himself in the words of Isaiah: ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.’
Such leading astray can still happen, when church leaders teach their people incorrectly. Sadly some pastors are more interested in making money or a reputation for themselves than in leading the people in their care as they should. People in such churches may not learn what Jesus is really like and what that means for them.
Alternatively, people can be led astray by the enticements around them which may look so much better than living in the way God wants them to. In Second Life that is even more of a problem. So much that is unhealthy is available so easily here. There is the problem of people’s perception that what they do here does not affect the real self. It’s all a game, so they think, and their avatar is just a player. But can someone really be a prostitute in SL and not suffer any consequences in RL? Is having a different wife in RL and SL OK because it’s not ‘real’? Jesus had the answer to this when he said that being angry was equivalent to murder, and lusting after someone was the equivalent of adultery. What goes on in SL may be all pixels interpreted by the mind but it can really lead Christians from the right path.
It’s not God’s will to have any of his little ones lost. He doesn’t just leave it to chance that they might be found. He has a way of finding them and it could well involve us. The church is supposed to be a place where those who are spiritually wounded are welcomed and cared for, where the sinners are accepted in the same way that Jesus accepted them. We are called to care for fellow believers who fall into sin or are in danger of doing so while not condoning wrong actions.
Paul tells us in Galatians to restore anyone who is ‘overtaken in any trespass’ (in other words they have been lured into sin of some kind) in a gentle way, bearing one another’s burdens. The letter of James tells us that if we turn someone who wanders back to the faith we will be saving them from death.
I read something today which illustrates just how vital it is to challenge those who are going astray, however uncomfortable we might feel about doing it, in the hope of leading them back to the path of life. The alternative is to allow wrong thoughts and actions to have a dreadful effect on a person as this story shows.
When Leonardo Da Vinci was painting the Last Supper he took seven years to do it. Each person in the painting, Jesus and the twelve disciples, was painted using a real person as a model. The first to be chosen was the one to be Jesus. It took weeks of looking at many young men until the right one was found. The requirement was someone with a face and a personality which suggested they were unsullied by sin. A young man aged 19 was finally chosen and sat for Da Vinci as a model for six months.
Over the next 6 years models were found who were appropriate for each of the disciples. The last one to be painted was Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. Once more it took weeks and weeks of searching. Da Vinci needed someone with a face that told the story of greed and deception, someone who would betray a friend. Eventually someone mentioned a man in prison who had been sentenced to death for murder and other crimes. The man was unkempt with hair falling over his face and had a vicious look, exactly what Da Vinci wanted.
The prisoner was allowed to travel from Rome to Milan to sit for Da Vinci over a period of 6 months. When Da Vinci had finished the last brushstroke he told the guards to take the man away back to prison. At this the prisoner rushed to Da Vinci and asked him if he knew who he was. The painter looked with care but concluded that he had never seen this man before he first saw him when looking for a model. On hearing this the prisoner exclaimed, ‘O God, have I fallen so low?’
Then he told Da Vinci that he was the man who, seven years before, had been the model for Jesus in the fresco of the Last Supper. A person with an unspoiled character had changed completely in seven years so that even a great artist could not see what he had been like under the ravages of what his life of crime had done to him. He had become the perfect model for Judas Iscariot.
If only someone had reached out to him and led him back safely before it was too late.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor