“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? (Lk 15:4)
The movie, “A River Runs Through It,” is a story about a lost sheep. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is a short conversation between brothers, Paul and Norman Maclean. They have taken Norman’s future brother-in-law, Neal, fishing. Neal is a Montana boy who left Montana and has returned a Hollywood star. Although we get the impression he may not be as successful as he presents himself.
Norman has reluctantly accepted the responsibility of making sure Neal stays out of trouble. However, Neal is more interested in getting drunk and chasing easy sexual encounters than fishing. Frustration finally gets to Norman and he abandons Neal. He leaves him passed out and naked in the bushes. A decision that would result in a full body sunburn and embarrassment for his girlfriend’s family.
When Paul asks about Neal, Norman replies, “To hell with him!” Paul tries to remind Norman he was supposed to be helping Neal, to which Norman says, “How the hell do you help that son of a bitch?” The conversation ends with Paul looking off in the distance and saying, “Maybe what he likes is somebody trying to help him.” The words stop Norman dead in his tracks. For the first time in his life he understands something about his own brother.
Paul is a lost sheep. No matter how much his father, mother and brother try to help him, Paul always finds trouble. Trouble that will eventually lead to his early death. Norman often he feels his attempts to rescue Paul are worthless and unwanted. So this one small statement helps him understand his efforts are not without value.
Whenever I consider the parable of the Lost Sheep, I think of the sheep who are searched for but never found. The ones we try to help, but our help never seems to make a difference. Yes, there is overwhelming joy when a lost sheep is found. But, we need to remember, sometimes the only joy a lost sheep ever experiences is the knowledge someone is trying to help them. Loving lost sheep is not about us feeling good about ourselves. It’s about loving those who feel unlovable so they might know joy. Even when joy is a fleeting encounter.
Click to read: Luke 15: 1-7
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