A Homily for the First Wednesday of Lent
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Amen.
For a few years now, I’ve preached the same sermon at the early service on Christmas Eve – one written by my father some twenty-five years ago. It’s the story of Eliezer the Unreliable, a shepherd in the hills outside Bethlehem. And does anyone remember what Eliezer says the number one rule of being a shepherd is?
Never, ever, EVER leave the sheep!
Sheep are dumb! They’re prone to wander into a briar patch and get stuck or walk into a river and drown. Predators might try to eat one for dinner. And of course, sheep are valuable, so shepherds have to protect them from bandits as well.
So tonight, when Jesus brings up the image of a good and trustworthy shepherd, he depicts a person who…
…leaves ninety-nine sheep to search out the one.
Who would do that? Who would even notice that one out of the hundred had slipped away, let alone leave ninety-nine behind, vulnerable to predators and thieves, to search out one straggler? There’s no hint that other shepherds are left to stand guard. It’s not like they’re in a closed-in pen where they’ll be safe. The text goes out of the way to say that the sheep are left “on the mountains.”
No, this is a different kind of shepherd – an foolishly extravagant kind of shepherd. One who notices when even one out of the ninety-nine goes astray, and then leaves the rest of the flock to go after the single lost sheep.
During our Bible study on the parables last month, I spent a lot of time trying to point out all the ways that the text defies our expectations, to highlight what is strange or odd, and thus, to interpret the text in a different way. But tonight, what’s strange about this text only reinforces the most basic interpretation: dear sisters and brothers, you are loved. You are so incredibly valued by God that Christ our Lord came into the world to search us out, facing down the dangerous wilderness to rescue us, and that same Lord would have done no less even if you alone had fallen to sin and death.
Our Lord God has a preferential option for the poor, the oppressed, the small, for the lost. There is no raging river Christ would not swim, no roaring lion he would not wrestle, no grave he would not climb into to rescue any one of us, even and especially the least among us.
This is the way of the Lord. It is why God called Abram and Sarai, humble nomads, and promised to bless the world through them, why the Lord blessed Jacob and spared Isaac, why Joseph found favor in the Lord’s eye. It’s why God heard the cry of Hebrew slaves and made a covenant with David, the king of a small nation. Time and time again, they failed to remain faithful, and time and time again, they found themselves surrounded by dangers, toils, and snares, and time and time and time again, the Lord sought them out to bring them back.
In Christ, we have all been adopted into this family – sinners that we are, he left his heavenly throne to search us out and bring us into the covenant.
And as we move towards Jerusalem and the Cross, as we reflect the Good Shepherd who laid down his life to save us, we also rejoice with all the company of heaven for the rescue of sheep who, like us, have gone astray.