What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!”
He had grown up in the Church and done everything a young man of God was expected to do. His parents often spoke of him as the model son, one who honored and obeyed authority and who kept his word. From his outward purity to his inward purity, he seemed to be on track to living a good Christian life. As he entered young adulthood, he began to entertain other ideologies and ways of thinking, and he eventually disappeared from the Church altogether. It was only after many years that he again fell in love with his Savior, but he hesitated as he went back to that church of his youth. He expected his old pastor to keep his distance and stand in a place of judgement, but what he found were the open arms of a shepherd welcoming back a lost sheep.
Shepherds must deal with many different dynamics within the flock. We certainly expect excitement and rejoicing when a sinner becomes saved and joins the fold. However, sometimes there is bitterness and resentment when one seems to go astray and then return. Personal offenses must be put aside, and the shepherd must be focused on the more important matter. The same excitement and joy felt for the new convert also should be felt for the one who returns for restoration. More than that, the shepherd is not to merely wait for the lost sheep to come back to the flock. It is for the shepherd to seek out those who stray from the path and bring them back through spiritual encouragement. This is an active search for the sheep instead of a passive waiting for their return.
The life of a Christian will be filled with hills and valleys. It is not at all uncommon to see someone on fire for the Lord one day and then take a few steps back because life just gets hard. A good shepherd will try to monitor this among the flock and even head off straying just as it starts. A good shepherd should want all to remain in good standing and to have confidence to return if they happen to lose their way. It is the welcoming heart of the shepherd that will give the stray sheep the confidence to come back in repentance. Father, increase in our leaders a desire to see all remain in the fold and the compassion to welcome back with open and loving arms those who stray.