By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 16, 2010
Children have an innate fear of getting separated from their parents. I can still recall the time I was in the New York City subway with my mother, and the train door opened, and she went ahead of me. For a split second, I thought the door would close before I could follow her. That fear of being lost stayed with me forever.
When I first met Jef, I was lost. I was at Georgia Tech searching for a classroom, and when I thought I’d found the right one, I peeked in the door and asked for directions from the students assembled there. That was his first glimpse of me, and evidently he found it rather endearing that I couldn’t find my way around. All these years later, I still keep him laughing with my faulty sense of direction.
But I was lost in other ways too. I had lost my moorings in college, becoming someone who thought life was meaningless because there was no God.
Maybe those like me who have been lost can really appreciate the story of the lost little sheep in the New Testament. What I love about the story is that it shows how radical Jesus’ love is. In today’s world, if someone had a whole flock of sheep, and one wandered off, wouldn’t we expect the person to just write it off? We can imagine them saying, “Well, I don’t want to lose any more sheep, so instead of looking for the lost one, I’ll just add it to my list of business expenses.”
But Jesus looks at situations the way a parent would. What mother, if she had 10 children, would shrug off looking for the one that was missing? And what if she had 15 children? She would still drop everything to search for the missing child. So with Jesus, it isn’t the numbers that matter. Each member of the flock—each person in the world—is his child. And every one has infinite value, which means he will drop everything to find the ones that get lost.
Many people in their 20s get lost when they go to college where many professors are preaching a totally secular message. It’s there that some Christians hear for the first time the astonishing statement that there isn’t a God. Despite all evidence to the contrary, university professors continue beating that particular drum, and many students lose their way as a result.
Giving up the belief in God goes hand in hand with losing the sense that you are inherently valuable and that you are deeply loved. So a person may succumb to a terrible sense of meaninglessness and despair. It is too easy to conclude that “I’m just one of billions on the planet. I’m just a cog in a huge machine.”
We don’t get any details in the Gospels about the sheep that strayed, but it is highly likely that the little fellow, once separated from the flock, was trying to find his way back. Maybe though, he couldn’t remember how to get there. And there could have been wolves nearby, a major danger. So when the shepherd came after him, we can imagine the sheep’s ears perking up when he heard the familiar voice.
In Luke’s Gospel, we learn that even if Jesus has 100 sheep, he will still go after the one that has strayed. If necessary, Jesus would lay down his life for that one sheep. That means that if there had only been one person in the world to redeem, Jesus still would have died on the cross.
For those who have lost their way in life, the Gospels assure us there is always a way home. There is always someone calling us back, someone who loves us so much and believes we are so valuable that he performed the most startling act of love imaginable.
He didn’t die for billions of anonymous masses. He didn’t die for mere cogs in the secularist’s machine. He died in a very personal way for each one of us.
Lorraine Murray’s newest book is “Death of a Liturgist,” a rollicking farce set at a fictional church in Decatur. It can be ordered at local bookstores and online. Artwork for this column is by Jef Murray.