Last night in our devotional reading, Jesus asked, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and leaving one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)
Jesus asks this as if it is obvious that any normal shepherd would stop the whole flock in its tracks and go off searching for one straggler. But it’s not obvious. It would be easier, and more expedient and efficient, simply to move on and let the straggler go. We might even justify sacrificing the straggler, in that it’s good for the flock not to have to slow down.
But the mindset of the Good Shepherd is that the flock is not safe, or well, or whole, nor has it reached its goal until every sheep has been treasured. That mindset will often challenge us – or even conflict with our usual habits of expedient thinking – but it is very good news. This is at the heart of the gospel: Every errant, wandering, or slow sheep is treasured in the mind of God. Not one of us can be sacrificed or lost for the sake of expediency.
Yesterday I saw a Tribal Director and a Camp Director sitting down together with a camper who was not yet ready to jump into the game a tribe was playing on Opening Day. It would have been easy to play and let the one straggler sit out, but the tribe is not whole until that one camper knows his place in it as a valued member.
Tomorrow morning, Deer Camp will be hiking up a tough mountain, and I know that the plan calls for patience and encouragement. At Rockmont we don’t run off and leave slow hikers. We hike together. We set a reasonable pace and keep in touch – up and down the line. When the leaders stop for water, we wait until everyone gets a chance to rest before charging forward.
Last night, hundreds of boys were listening to the story of the good shepherd as they take their place in their cabins for the first time. Quite a few others were reading this in Base Camp cabins with friends who have already been through adventurous journeys together. I hope they heard the good news in it. I hope they noticed that provocative word, “until.” The shepherd searches relentlessly “until” he finds the one sheep. But even if they didn’t pick up on the story, I am glad to know that they can see it enacted every day.