There once was a shepherd with a hundred lambs, but one of his lambs wandered away and was lost. So the shepherd left the 99 lambs out in the open field and searched in the wilderness for that one lost lamb. He didn’t stop until he finally found it. With exuberant joy he raised it up and placed it on his shoulders, carrying it back with cheerful delight! Returning home, he called his friends and neighbors together and said, “Let’s have a party! Come and celebrate with me the return of my lost lamb. It wandered away but I found it and brought it home.” Luke 15:4-7
I shiver, huddled under the only foliage in sight, a scrubby half-dead excuse of a tree and the protection it provides is not worth mentioning, but it’s all I could find. I have no idea where I am, or where my family and friends are. I’m alone… desperately, terrifyingly alone. I’ve never been totally alone before.
Food has been scarce lately; a recent drought dried up the brooks, and the grass is shriveled and brown. I was scrounging for any morsel of food I could find; we all were. I thought maybe if I just went a little further, beyond the area we were traveling through, I might find some tender shoots of young plants. Just a little further, I said to myself; just over the next hill. No one was looking, so I slowly drifted from the flock. Nothing, and so I went over the next hill, but the landscape never improved; if anything, it got worse, more desolate, more forsaken.
Now I’m lost. Nothing looks familiar.
I want to find my way back to the flock but I’m so confused; there are no landmarks that I recognize, and everything looks the same… dry and dusty and brown as far as my eye can see.
I have no idea which way to turn at this point, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s been so long now since I’ve eaten, I’m too weak to travel. My only hope at this point, is that someone will find me. But out here? How would they even know where to look?
I wonder if the other sheep even know I’m missing. Probably not, no one pays attention to me. And my shepherd… well, I’m afraid of him, so I stay out of his away. I’m not even sure he knows I exist and if he does realize I’m gone, he’s probably angry.
I’m so tired, I’ll just close my eyes for minute and then I’ll try to figure out what to…
“What’s this?! Poor little sheep. You are so bedraggled, your wool all matted with twigs and insects. How on earth did you come this far, little one?”
I awake and realize I’m no longer under the tree. My sleepy eyes struggle to focus; the ground seems to be moving and with a start, I realize I am moving, and the ground is a good six feet beneath me. What is happening? I lift my head and…
“Well, good morning, little one, did you rest well?”
I am being carried by a very tall, muscular man. I can’t see his face, but my head is resting on his shoulder, my arms and feet dangling down his chest. My natural instinct is to bolt, but I know I’d break a leg if I jumped from this height, and there’s something soothing about his voice. Something familiar. He reaches up and pats my head.
“No need to fear; I’ve got you. You’re safe now.”
He strokes my neck and my muscles begin to relax. He’s walking fast but with such long strides it’s like gliding through the air, soothing and gentle. My eyes grow heavy again.
“That’s, it, little one, just rest.”
When I wake again, the sun is high in the sky and we are sitting under a huge, leafy tree on the greenest grass imaginable. There’s a quiet stream nearby, murmuring with ripples of joy as it tumbles over rocks and makes its way to the river.
I am still curled up on his shoulders. He reaches up and feeds me some of the grass he’s pulled up, then cups his hands and dips them into a pail of water, offering me a drink. It’s the most refreshing water I’ve ever tasted.
“Who, who are you?” I ask.
He lowers me to the grass now, looks me in the eyes and says, “I’m your shepherd. When I realized you were lost, I came looking for you. You’ve given me quite an adventure, you know. I never dreamed you could roam this far.”
I hang my head.
“It’s ok, little one. I know you were hungry, but you’re here with me now and that’s all that matters.”
I can hardly believe he came looking for me and now he’s talking to me. He rescued me! The least of the flock. He acts like I am the only sheep in the whole world. I am important to him.
My belly full; my eyes grow droopy again. He notices, lifts me back up onto his thick, ropy shoulders and stands up. He is so tall the fleece on my back grazes the leaves of the trees. I lift my head and nibble on a leaf for dessert.
“Rest now, little one. We have miles to go and you need to regain your strength.”
With his permission, I relax. My body goes as limp as I’ve ever felt it, every taut muscle going slack. I feel as if I’m melting into Him, like I am part of him. I can feel his strength beneath me, the hardness of his muscles. But there’s a gentleness about him, too. His neck smells like mountains, like a forest, like what the world must have smelled like when it was first created.
Timidly I stick out my tongue and lick his neck; it tastes briny, like the river and sweet as a daffodil.
My heart feels like it will burst for love of him. A tear spills from my eye and travels down onto his neck.
“There, there, little one. I love you, too. Not much longer, and we’ll be back with your family and friends. Time to celebrate! My little lamb wandered away, but I found it and brought it home.”
I smile and close my eyes, finally realizing that green pastures or not, anywhere with Him is home.