If I had to choose one story…

See Easter 4(A)

Tell me, you whom my heart loves, where you pasture your flock?
– Song of Songs 1:7

If you were given an opportunity to tell only one Christian story, what would it be?

Christ as the Good Shepherd, Mosaic from the Entrance Wall of the Mausoleum of Gall Placidia

As a Christian Educator I found myself in this position from time to time; plopped into a parish for a single Sunday guest appearance in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants church school program. (Actually, some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants programs can be better than slick, expensive, fancy, well-organized ones… but I’m getting off topic.)

My “one story” is the parable of the lost sheep.

   Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  So he told them this parable:
   “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?  When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them. ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’
   “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” – Luke 15:1-7

Everyone will be lost at one time or another. Or many times. Some of us chronically wander into narrow canyons where paths stop so abruptly you can’t even turn around and go back out. Only a shepherd’s crook from an overhanging ledge above can haul you up to safety.

The story of the Lost Sheep can also help cut through some of the density of the Johannine material for Good Shepherd Sunday. This Lukan story needs no explanation – the story works on levels simple and complex, personal and corporate, literal and allegorical, metaphorical and anagogical.

Anagogically and simply yours,

While looking for quotes this week I found this hymn by Elizabeth Clephane (1830-1869). (She also wrote the hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus.) 

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold;
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare;
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me.
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry;
’Twas sick and helpless and ready to die.

“Lord, whence are those blood-drops all the way,
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They’re pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

And all through the mountains, thunder-riv’n,
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of heav’n,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!”

Elizabeth Clephane  1830-1869  
The Ninety Nine

2 Responses to “If I had to choose one story…”

  1. claire Says:

    Yes, I get lost quite often, which gives me the joy of being found 🙂
    If I were to tell one story, I think I would choose ‘The Prodigal Daughter.’
    Thank you for the poem; it is quite beautiful.

  2. Chris Says:

    Some of us wander into narrow canyons where paths stop so abruptly you can’t even turn around and go back out. Only a shepherd’s crook from an overhanging ledge above can haul you up to safety.

    Thank you for this vision. Yes, being lost is so often far worse than being lost–it’s being stuck. I’ll never look at the marvelous shepherd’s crook in the same way again.

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