Believe it or not, I’ve been trying to write more lately. I’ve taken my pen and journal out of their old dusty spot on the bookshelf. I’ve opened new tabs on my laptop. I’ve stared at the blinking cursor more than I want to admit. Usually writing is how I process. The ink from the pen strives to keep up with my racing brain, spilling out thoughts and feelings and musings. But lately, the ink just seems to have dried up. Not for lack of racing thoughts or life circumstances begging for process. I think lately the world has seemed just a little too big to process using my tried and true methods. And after spending a year locked away, like most of the rest of the world, my preferred methodology has been conversation, when I can get it.
Recently though I have been fixated on a topic that I could think of no one who would care to listen to me puzzle it out, down to the quick.
I’ve been thinking about the one versus the many. Years and years ago, when I thought I could save the world by working at a church my whole life, I attended a conference for church leaders. I listened to a world renowned speaker state that, as church leaders, we must always be considering the needs of the many over the needs of the one. Now, full disclosure, this may have been a perfectly apt thesis for him to be proposing. I vaguely remember him giving an example of choosing church service times that work for most rather than for a select few that you wanted to see filling your pews, or something like that. But for whatever reason, that sentiment “the one for the many, never the many for the one”, has been bouncing around my brain and has given me pause lately.
I think because it brings to mind one of my favorite parables that Jesus taught, about a lost sheep and a good shepherd. As I am sure many of you know, sheep are infernally stupid. And that’s not a derogatory statement towards sheep. They really are just so, so dumb. As a result, shepherds, really good and dedicated ones were and, are to this day, very patient, long-suffering folk. In this parable Jesus describes a very common experience: a dumb sheep wanders off, away from its flock and its shepherd. It gets stuck somewhere, as dumb sheep are inclined to do and so now it lost and stuck and, for all intents and purposes, literally dead meat.
The Good Shepard, however, is not your average shepherd. Protocol and common sense says he should weigh the pros and cons of leaving his hundreds of other sheep (just as dumb, by the way, they just haven’t acted on their stupidity yet) against the chances of finding this one lost sheep and rationally proclaim the lost sheep an acceptable loss. He should stay with the flock. They need him. They weren’t dumb enough yet to wander away and until they do, they deserve his protection.
But this Good Shepherd doesn’t follow protocol. He locks the other hundreds of sheep safely away and goes out, into the dark for that stupid, lost, stuck sheep. Very plainly, he chooses the one over the many. And he does this every single time another dumb sheep wanders away and finds itself very lost and very stuck.
In the last year or so I have found myself standing at the edge of a flock of sheep, longing to go after the lost ones. It’s very against my nature. I like to hang with the flock. I like to be practical. I don’t like to rock the boat and I can find enough morally good reasons to hang out with the flock. But also in the last year I have realized something else: The flock are temporarily safe, with or without the shepherd. There is safety in numbers. There is comfort in community. There is warmth found in huddles.
But that one? It is not safe. It is lost in isolation and pain. It is cold and afraid. And more perhaps then even needing a rescuer, it needs a friend. It needs to know someone is willing to leave the safety of the flock to find it and puzzle out just how to get it unstuck and un-lost.
Today, on Easter, we celebrated the joy found in the ultimate Good Shepherd going after all of the lost sheep. In his work on the cross and through his work in the grave, Jesus came after each of us dumb, lost, stuck sheep. It may look right now like I am hanging with the flock, that I’m being a good sheep who would never dream of wandering, but I have wandered in the past and I will wander again. And the Good Shepherd will come find me. I know he will. He’ll come in the form of a friend, who loves me enough to come looking for me.
There are lost sheep everywhere you look. In every bramble, sewer, or locked room, you will find them. The question is, will we leave the flock to go find them?