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Leading the Sheep Home
Preparing for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, One Day before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 32
Old Testament: Exodus 32:7-14
Epistle: Luke 15:1-10
Through Christ you make us a new creation, O God, for with him we pass from sin to the new life of grace. Accept our prayers in the warm embrace of your compassion, and welcome all people to the festive banquet of your table, where we may rejoice in your love and celebrate the inheritance you have given to us. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 3-7).
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34).
The crowd apparently was enormous in size: Five thousand men, writes Mark (6:44). He doesn’t mention women and children but they were there also. The mass of humanity was moving themselves toward the Galilean shore. They looked for the boat that carried Jesus and his friends. The crowd greatly wanted to see the amazing teacher from Nazareth. They were like buzzing bees in a hive, looking for the queen. They wanted to see Jesus.
And, of course, Jesus wanted to see them. But what he saw bothered him. They seemed so desperately in need of direction. They appeared to be confused, hoping for someone to tell them what to do, what to believe. Mark tells us that Jesus had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
Being lost or confused or without direction is a common dilemma, even in today’s world. We talk about people who have not found themselves. We see people hiding from life because they really don’t know what to do, where to find meaning, where to discover joy and fulfillment. So many find life too painful to fully engage in it. They are restless; they are searching. They are hoping that someone will help them make sense of life, that it is not, in Shakespeare’s words, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. They are profoundly and desperately lost.
The people huddled on the lakeshore where Jesus was to land were also desperate for meaning and direction. Surely they were a pitiful sight to behold. They had no one to show them how to gain the fullness of life; no one to show them the joy that comes from doing God’s will; and no one to tell them what a later saint said: In God’s will there is perfect peace. Jesus set out to do that very thing. The Good Shepherd was there to lead them out of their maze of confusion and show them how to live an abundant and joyful life.
If you go to Jerusalem today, you will see sheep nibbling away in grassy areas of the city. Nearby you will also see a shepherd sitting. He watches his flock all day. If they need water, he provides it. If there is danger from cars or dogs, he tries to keep them safe. Then, as the sun begins to sink, he gathers them close and leads them home to the sheepfold he has for them.
Our Savior does the same for us. As the ancient psalm has it, he leads us in right paths. He walks with us through shadowy valleys, the dark places of life. He comforts us with his presence and protection. He bestows goodness and mercy all the days of our lives, and we know that, because of him, we will get through life whole and make it finally to the Father’s eternal home.