Daily Update #177

Today’s Readings – Isaiah 40: 1-11.    Psalm 96:1,10-13.    Matthew 18:12-14

The parable of the lost sheep in today’s gospel reading has a rather different emphasis to that contained in the similarly named parable in Luke’s gospel (15:3-7). The wayward sheep in Luke’s version was already lost. Jesus was there urging the disciples to reach out to outsiders. Here, however, He is emphasising the need for His followers to look out for each other. God is determined not to lose any of His ‘little ones’ (v14). So Matthew’s account of the wandering sheep is not only about the loving care of our Father in Heaven. It is also about us reflecting God’s loving concern for our safety by looking after and protecting each other. This is especially necessary for any of us with a tendency to wander away into danger!

In these pastoral parables it is the rejoicing of the shepherd when each lost sheep is rescued that stands out to me. God delights in rescuing us when we drift away from Him into spiritual and other dangers. In sending Jesus to rescue us from our sins, our Father in heaven has revealed the depths of His love for us. The lengths to which He has already gone to save us, and keep us safe, do not give us the freedom to keep on straying. They do, however, give us total assurance of how much God loves us and wants us to stay close to Him. Jesus expects His followers to be similarly committed to encouraging, supporting and looking after each other. This pastoral care, as we share the compassion and care of our loving God, is already seen in the many unobtrusive and hidden acts of kindness that go on each day. We know that this is not something that we can just leave to the pastoral team to deal with on our behalf, especially in times of lockdown and potential isolation and loneliness.

The committed shepherd in today’s parable was overjoyed when he found the lost sheep. We too will share in God’s joy whenever He uses us to comfort, bless and restore to Him anyone we know who is drifting away or struggling spiritually, mentally or physically. What a privilege! Today’s reading from Isaiah closes in verse 11 with these beautiful words: “He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.” As I said at St John’s on 23rd February this year in a talk during our big series on Isaiah: “Like helpless, immature lambs, when we acknowledge our failings and need for Yahweh’s protection, in the words of Dr Alec Motyer,’ we ‘feel most gently the warmth of His shepherding arms around us, and know for sure that we are the lambs of His flock’.” This parable reveals the essence of God’s love for us. It is individual love; patient love; seeking love; rejoicing love; and protecting love. May it be that quality of love that we show to each other, and everyone we know.

A Prayer for Today: Thank you Lord Jesus for the parable of the lost sheep. May we never stray far from you, our Good Shepherd. This Advent we remember with great thankfulness and joy that You came as a helpless baby to rescue us from our sins. We thank you that you gave everything for us at Calvary and have conquered the power of sin, death and the devil. May we serve you by serving each other, bringing comfort, care and joy wherever there is special need. Just like You. Amen.