Over the past few days a video has been making the rounds on social media. It shows a young man grabbing the leg of an animal that was stuck in a ditch and pulling it out. A sheep soon emerges from the ditch, and as soon as it’s free, it bounds off alongside the road and mere seconds later takes a big leap – right back into the same ditch. (If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth watching!)
I have to admit, I enjoyed many of the ensuing memes and captions for the video. My favorite was a take on the parable of the lost sheep: If a man has a hundred sheep and loses one, does he not leave the ninety-nine to search for the one? And when he finds it, he rejoices and calls his neighbors, and… what do you mean the sheep is already stuck in a hole AGAIN?
The timing of this video going viral really couldn’t have been more perfect. This Sunday is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we will hear part of Jesus’ well-known discourse from the John’s Gospel (Jn 10:1-18). We’re all familiar with the images and themes in this allegory. Jesus identifies himself as the gate who allows the sheep to enter safely into the pasture, and as the good shepherd who will protect the sheep even at the cost of his own life. Jesus also describes the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. They know one another, and the sheep recognize and respond to the shepherd’s voice.
I’ve found myself contemplating how the parable of the lost sheep and the discourse on the good shepherd come together with the video of the sheep stuck in the ditch. I can imagine this sheep happily bounding down the road when all of a sudden there wasn’t any ground there under its feet. There was probably a brief moment of confusion before the sheep started wriggling around, trying to go on its merry way, and the realization sets in, “Uh-oh. I’m stuck. Like, really stuck.” In the meantime, the shepherd is off with the rest of the flock taking a headcount, “…ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine… Ninety nine… Oh, no. Not again!” And off he goes to track down his missing sheep. The sheep stuck in the ditch hears the shepherd calling out from a distance, and starts bleating in reply, “I’m over here! Help! I’m stuck!” The shepherd follows the sound of the sheep and when he sees it in the ditch assures it, “I’m here. Everything’s going to be okay!” As excited as the sheep is that help has arrived, it’s also somewhat irritated with the whole situation. “What took you so long?!? Get me out of here!!!” The shepherd sets to work pulling the sheep out of the ditch. As soon as it’s out, the sheep scrambles away from the shepherd, “Yippee! I’m freeeee!!!” and takes off bounding down the road, immediately getting itself stuck right back in the same ditch. The shepherd breathes a deep sigh, “Really?” and heads down the road to rescue the sheep yet again.
This whole scene is such a rich depiction of God’s relationship with us. We tend to live life at a fast pace, constantly on the move jumping from one thing to the next. It’s easy to get so busy that we check in with God (in other words, pray) less often, and we start wandering further away. Gradually it gets harder to hear his voice and we wind up lost. Sometimes we’re so distracted or exercise poor enough judgment that we even manage to get ourselves stuck in a ditch. Just like the sheep, I can do a really good job of getting myself lost or stuck. When I do, it can take me a while before I inevitably realize that no matter how hard I try, I can’t get myself out of the predicament I got myself into. So I start calling out, “Hey, uh, God? A little help over here?”
Jesus is always seeking you out, even before you realize you need his help. He loves you. He’s calling out to you and is just waiting for you to respond. He wants to set you free! No matter how far you might have wandered or how many times you’ve managed to get yourself stuck, Jesus will never leave you there. He is the Good Shepherd who knows you and gives his life for you. He will always find you and save you and bring you back to his fold.