Summary: Friend of Sinners, Pt. 5
THE SHEPHERD AND OVERSEER OF OUR SOULS (LUKE 15:1-7)
An elderly farmer was brought into the hospital because he appeared confused and was thought to have had a stroke. Attempting to assess his mental state, the doctor asked, “If you have a hundred sheep in a pasture and seven escape, how many will be left?” “Zero,” replied the farmer. “No, the answer is ninety-three,” said the doctor. “Fella,” the farmer replied acerbically, “you don’t know nothin’ about sheep. When one of them dumb critters decides to go, they all go.”
Sheep are witless, harmless and powerless animals. Coyotes, wolves and dogs terrorize them. Even a pig is enough to head them into a panic, hurry them into good behavior or herd them into the fold, as famously captured on film in the movie “Pig.” I have read internet accounts of what harm dogs can do to sheep: Three neighborhood dogs slaughtered thirty-one sheep in one incident and two pet dogs killed sixteen in another. A church member who grew up on a farm told how, unknown to him, his pet dog had nibbled at his sheep’s ear until it was gone. Yet, the hapless sheep did not bleat in pain, make a sound or run for cover!
Sheep may be dumb, but they are valued. Traders value sheep for clothing, diners eat them for gourmet and pilgrims offer them for sacrifice. Mutton comes from sheep about three years old raised in the open country; rack of lamb comes from lambs under a year old - best reared under shelter; and sheep milk generally costs 3-4 times the price of cow milk. Today people have been known to clone them, raise them like children and even use them ingeniously in the country to cut grass, devour weeds and control brush.
In Luke 15, Jesus defended his association with sinners and tax collectors, compared sinners to lost sheep and insisted that He would stop at nothing to track them, call them and rescue them. Our Lord compares men to sheep, and He as the Great Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
How has God demonstrated His love for sinners? What will He do for love? Why does He do the things He do?
The Great Shepherd Locates Every Sheep in the Flock
15:1 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (Lk 15:1-4)
Belden Lane told a stirring story of prominent fourth century desert father Abba Abraham and his love for her niece, Mary:
Abba Abraham was known for his great holiness and austere living, but he was also known for his love. When his married brother in the city died, leaving a seven year old daughter with no one to care for her, Abba Abraham took her in, letting her stay in the other room herself. Her name was Mary, and through the years Mary grew into a beautiful and very devout girl, the image of her uncle, until one day a false and wicked hermit traveled by was captivated by her beauty and determined to have her. He caught her by surprise one day, sexually forced her and then left her alone in the desert in complete despair. The experience broke her. She blamed herself, thinking she could never again be forgiven. She punished herself even more by taking on the strange penance of going to a brothel in a distant city, convinced God could never forgive her.
Meanwhile Abba Abraham looked everywhere for his niece. After two years he finally learned what had happened to her and where she was. With a father’s love, he determined to win her back. So he set aside his monk’s habit, dressed in a military uniform, pulled a big hat down over his ears, borrowed a horse, and set off for the city. There he found her in a tavern where he had heard she stayed, and said to the innkeeper, “They tell me, friend, that you have a fine wench here. I’d like to have a look at her, if you would.” So he sat down, ordered a drink, and soon Mary was brought in. She didn’t recognize him. So he yelled out, “Innkeeper, make us a good supper, because I plan to make Mary with this last. I,” he said, “I’ve come a long way for the love of Mary.” And he who had tasted only bread and water for fifty years ate meat for all he was worth, all for the love of a lost daughter. After supper Mary took him to her room, for the first time they were alone. And as she bent down to take off his shoes, he said again, “I, I’ve come a long way for the love of Mary.” And then she knew who it was. She fell at his feet in tears, as suddenly she realized what he’d done for her. Abba Abraham, known for his austere life, would never have done these things if he hadn’t loved her so much and forgiven her everything. And so through his love she was able to imagine God’s love and forgiveness as well.