My cat, Striper, routinely stands on the back of our living room couch, parts the curtains with his nose and looks out the window, scanning the front yard for birds, squirrels or anything that moves. My neighbors have seen him do this and have commented on how adorable he is.
One morning as I backed out of the driveway on my way to work, I noticed him watching me from the front window. Seeing him there touched me, so I waved a cheesy “good-bye” from inside the car. I was embarrassed with a driver of a car who came up fast in my rear-view mirror saw me do this. I’m sure he was not as sentimental about my “cat mom waves and blows kisses” moment as I was!
Oh well! This just shows that pets are vital members of our families. The endearment goes even deeper when the pet is a rescue. When animals are rescued from potential harm, it seems like they never forget and become attached to their rescuers for the rest of their lives.
Such is the case of Striper. He is a healthy indoor cat with the full run of the house. He curls up on the bed and sleeps all day, prowls at night, nibbles plenty of good food, slurps fresh water from his bowl and enjoys a clean litterbox. He leads an enviable cat life today, but it almost didn’t go this well for him.
I am going to tell his story of how I found him, even though it is unsettling to read. Keep in mind that this is the context for our parable of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Several years ago in early January the temperature in Cleveland, Ohio was 60 degrees. I took advantage of the spring-like weather by going for a walk on my favorite fitness trail at a nearby park. I briskly walked the first stretch and was turning the bend with I heard a woman calling me.
“Lady! Lady!” she called out. “Do you know where I can take a stray cat? I found him in a bag inside a garbage can!”
“What?” I thought. “Who would dump a live cat into a park garbage can?” I spun around and saw a young Asian woman and her mother walking towards me. She showed me the insulated food bag that she found the cat in. She heard him crying while they were walking and she pulled him out.
Still shocked, I told her that there was a pet shelter near the park entrance. She could take him there since it would likely be open. I guessed that they might charge a fee to drop off unwanted pets.
“I put him in the back seat of my car,” she said. “Do you want to see him before I take him there?”
“Sure!” I shrugged. “I love cats.”
She opened the back door of her car. There curled up on the back seat was a frightened brown-striped, short-haired tabby. I scooped him up and held him. He seemed to relax in my arms as I fell in love with him. He had gorgeous green eyes and symmetrical markings.
I will take him home with me,” I told her. “If he doesn’t get along with my older female cat then I will take him to the pet shelter.”
She seemed relieved, thanked me and drove off. I walked back to my car holding my newly found little cat. On the way home I named him “Striper.”
“Don’t worry Striper,” I assured him. “You are safe with me now.”
That happened about five years ago. Since then my older female cat passed away, leaving Striper as king of the house. He is well-adjusted, social, and super-friendly with visitors. The happy ending is that he gets to live out his kitty existence thanks to a well-timed rescue.
Now let’s use this story for the analogy of Jesus the Good Shepherd who rescues lost sheep. In Matthew 18:11 Jesus begins the parable of the lost sheep by saying, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which is lost.” Here Jesus positions Himself as the ultimate Rescuer of people.
In Luke 15:4 Jesus tells this same parable to the Pharisees in response to their complaints about Him socializing with “sinners.” The lost sheep in the story represent people who are separated from God by their sin. He reasons with the Pharisees, saying that any decent man who owns a flock of 100 sheep would leave 99 of them to go out and recover the one sheep who lost its way. When he finds it, he carries it safely home, and all the friend and neighbors rejoice that the sheep was found. Unlike the resentful Pharisees, Jesus says all the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who renounces his sin and turns to God.
In John 10:1-15 Jesus again uses the comparison of people to lost sheep. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.” (John 10:4) Jesus warns of the dangers of falling prey to wolves and thieves when we are away form God. The crowd that was listening to Him did not understand what He was referring to. He told them directly that they were the lost sheep in the story. They needed Him as their Rescuer.
As unsettling as it is to hear about lost animals, it is way more disconcerting to picture yourself as being lost, alone, helpless, and vulnerable to the elements of the world. That is exactly where Jesus was going with this parable. He wanted people to realize their lost condition in their sin and their dire need of a Savior. He singled out the one lost sheep because we each need a personal rescue from sin. Jesus saves us on an individual basis.
Jesus cushions this difficult imagery by saying that He can be trusted as the Good Shepherd, much like I assured Striper that he was safe with me. Jesus supernaturally brings us to Himself and carries us to safe pasture. He is the resting place for our hearts. In Him, we find love, acceptance, safety, and eternal security.
Jesus is the good and trustworthy Shepherd because He laid down His life for His sheep. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) By dying on the Cross, Jesus paid the penalty of sin once and for all. When we personally accept His sacrifice on our behalf, we can be forgiven and released from sin’s penalty of death. Christ makes sure that people understand the cost to Him. No one else can pay such a high price to redeem us. Jesus is the only Good Shepherd who was sent from God for this purpose.
For us now, His rescue is simply a prayer away. His forgiveness of sin is free for the asking. Then we will be forever grateful and amazed, just like the hymn “Amazing Grace” says: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.” Amen.