Good Shepherd Meets Lost Sheep

It's a lovely image--the shepherd rescuing a last sheep and carrying it home rejoicing--and a romantic image, at least as it has been portrayed by artists. But looking at it, what am I to say? What counsel shall I give? Speak what saving word? GET LOST! You can't be found unless you are lost. Forgiveness comes when we admit that we have wandered far in a land that is waste, and in desert wastes we have found no way to a city to dwell in.

But in fact most of us don't have to get lost, we are already lost. And we continue to wander in our lostness from event to event and moment to moment of our life. Sometimes our life seems less something we do than something we undergo. Face to face with our life, we are helpless and afraid. The good that we would, we do not, and the evil that we would not, that we do. It is not just in the face of our sin that we are helpless, but in the face of all that we are called to be. Everywhere we see the gap, the distance between what we are and what we want to be and are called to be. So we live out our desperate condition from crisis to crisis, always on the edge, the edge of madness, the edge of despair, the edge of exhaustion, always at the end of our rope, on the edge of some fearsome abyss. We always live in Edge City.

Edge City has its own peculiar geography. It is found in a land of unlikeness, no landmarks here, not even a map. When we find it, we have wandered far in a land that is waste. When we have abandoned all our provisions for the journey, we come to that dread City. Casting off all our baggage, we must penetrate to its center and not hang back in the suburbs. To come to this center, we must be thoroughly and completely lost. Despair of something, despair about something, is not true despair. Desire of something is not the plain desire that drives us toward the center. These about-somethings and for-somethings are the suburbs. We must head on downtown. For just at the center, just on the other side is Redemption Point, where the dawn begins.

This dawning comes in many ways. We meet the shepherd in as many ways as there are of us. We may suddenly see that the gap, the abyss, presupposes something. Our hope originates in the sudden colossal awakening to understanding that our lostness implies something compared to which we are lost, a foundness right there to which we surrender, who takes us up and "on his shoulder gently laid and home rejoicing brought us."

If we go into the darkness, we find in the depths a voice. If the voice speaks condemnation or grief or fear, we have not gone deep enough. We must gently refuse the false voice and head in deeper, keep on until we find the voice of Him that calls us all by name and leads us out of our lostness, whom we follow because we recognize his voice. He calls us as he called Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Mary came there to weep. She didn't recognize the Lord and turned away from him back to her own grief. He said "Mary," and she knew him, knew his voice and followed her Shepherd. So in the depth of our being, the Lord has called our name. In a place we may have forgotten, we have recognized his voice and followed him. So we meet the dawn by surrender to our lostness, for at the bottom of it, in the utter dark, the Shepherd lies in waiting.

The dawn comes in many ways, but there is no dawn without the darkness. So when I tell you to get lost, I think I issue the divine call. It is in our despair, in our lostness, in our inner darkness, that the call comes. The lostness, fear and despair are our vocation. He calls us to this in calling us to himself. We cannot come to him but through the desert. "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." We are led down this road so that we may give ourselves, such as we are, to him, such as he is. The way through the desert prepares us to give ourselves to him as fully as we can.

Well, we can only come to the brink of this mystery, to the hope of meeting the shepherd of our souls, Jesus Christ, to the possibility of joining up with him in a permanent union and allowing him to be incarnate in us. All that can be spoken are feeble images, pointing to a figure we cannot paint--a figure in the shape of a shepherd, a hope in the shape of home.