Read: Luke 15:1-7
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?” (Luke 15:3-4).
Why is it so hard for us to admit that we are lost?
Some of it may be good, old-fashioned arrogance. Or maybe we’re stubborn. Or maybe we don’t even realize we ARE lost.
Whatever the reason, most of us resist that moment of truth for as long as we can. Only when we are faced with incontrovertible evidence do we finally admit that we are well and truly lost.
I remember getting a call from a distraught teenager (who will remain nameless). She had driven north on Highway 131 searching for the amusement park she KNEW was there. She was so sure that it was there that she had soldiered on for over two hours in a state of perpetual hope and disappointment. Finally, she pulled over to call home for directions. As a parent, it gave me no joy to inform her that said amusement park was on Highway 31, not 131. Well, OK…maybe it did give me a little joy, but since it was exactly the kind of thing I would have done at her age, I didn’t have much room to laugh.
Again I ask: Why is it so hard for us to admit that we are lost?
Novelist Louise Penny puts her finger on the psychological sore spot when she observes:
Being lost is so much worse than being on the wrong road. That’s why people stay on it for so long. We’re too far gone, or so we think. We’re tired and we’re confused and we’re scared. And we think there’s no way back (A Great Reckoning, St. Martin’s Press, 2016, p. 366).
Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep approaches the predicament from the perspective of the shepherd. The parable says nothing about the lost sheep’s state of mind. Instead, it focuses on the love and determination of the shepherd, who goes to extravagant lengths to rescue the one member of the flock that has gone astray.
This angle is profoundly reassuring, of course. But the perspective of the sheep could not have been lost on “all the tax collectors and sinners” who “were coming near to listen to him” (v. 1). And it is not lost on us, either. At some point, we are all “poor little lambs who have lost our way.”
Jesus comes looking for us even if we don’t realize we’re lost. Jesus comes looking for us even if we’re too stubborn or too arrogant or too scared to admit that we’re lost. His state of mind is more important than our state of mind. Having said that, we should also acknowledge that the Good Shepherd may use our state of mind to help us find our way home.
Later in the aforementioned novel, Louise Penny writes:
There’s always a road back. If we have the courage to look for it, and take it. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I don’t know. I need help. Those are the signposts. The cardinal directions (p. 374).
All of us need to watch for those signposts—to ask for those directions. But while we’re doing so, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus is already running to meet us. Heck, he’s already planning the welcome home party.
Ponder the words to “Lead Kindly Light” by John Cardinal Newman. Newman had been traveling in Italy when he fell ill. Longing for his home in England, he boarded a ship in Palermo. It was becalmed for a week on its way to Marseille. It was during this week that he wrote the words to the now familiar hymn.
Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on;
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose, and see my path; but now
Lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost a while.
Pray: Look for us even if we don’t realize we are lost.
Lost and Found Series Introduction
If you’ve ever used MapQuest, you’ll know that there are often several different routes that you can use to reach your destination. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. We make our choice based on our priorities. Sometimes scenery may be more important to us that speed, and we plan our route accordingly.
Yet, even with the marvels of modern technology, there are still a whole lot of ways to get lost.
What is true in terms of physical navigation is even more true in terms of spiritual navigation. There are a lot of ways to get lost—individually and collectively. In this series, we’ll explore some of these. And while we won’t have a computer generated voice to help us get back on track, we will have Scripture.
The first reflection in the series is on the parable of the lost sheep. It shares its title with the whole series, and it reminds us that the Good Shepherd is looking for us even if we don’t realize we’re lost. I don’t know about you, but I find that infinitely more reassuring than a computer generated voice.
May the Good Shepherd seek and find you in this series.
Carol M. Bechtel