It is the Lord who goes before you; he will be with you and will never fail you or forsake you. So do not fear or be dismayed.—Deuteronomy 31:8
Which one of you with a hundred sheep, if he lost one, would fail to leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, I have found my sheep that was lost.”—Luke 15:4-7
What we miss in this familiar parable is the obvious answer: I would. I would fail to leave them. I would absolutely cut a 1 percent loss rather than go wandering through the desert, leaving my other sheep to be scattered and attacked. I would lament the lost sheep, but I would move on. It’s not worth the risk, the effort. Who’s to say I’ll even find it? Or if I do, that it won’t wander off again? No, it’s just a sheep. I’ll keep better watch next time.
We are miserly with our love, so we expect the same of God. It’s why we so often refuse to accept his love. “Why would he want me back after all I’ve done to him?” And so we label ourselves with the sins God died to free us from, convinced (by our own shame or the hectoring of those who claim the name of Christ) that he couldn’t possibly want us.
I don’t know how it is that we look at a God with bleeding hands and think he won’t have mercy. I don’t know how we hear the witness of a filthy, smelly, ornery sheep whose shepherd came rappelling down the side of a ravine to save him and think that somehow we are too much trouble and our pit too deep. Because we’ve fallen one too many times or in too shameful a way we think that we are the one sheep the shepherd won’t come after.
He will never fail you. He will never forsake you. “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love will never leave you … oh afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled” (Isaiah 54:10-11). It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, how you’ve lied, who you’ve hurt, what you do or what’s been done to you, he will never stop loving you, never stop holding out his pierced hands to you.
When you turn your back on him, he will still be there. When you run, he will follow. Always at a distance, this gentleman-lover of ours, but he will be there. And the moment you give him the smallest hint that you’re ready to come home, he’ll scoop you up rejoicing and the choirs of heaven will sing in triumph.
Our fear is that we only get that welcome one time. We get one big conversion and after that we’d better be good. But that’s not how it was with Peter. Or Martha. Or Paul. Or most (perhaps all?) of the saints. Fallen humanity limps in pursuit of Christ, and sometimes it’s too much. We fall behind or turn away, discouraged or distracted, and suddenly we’re back in the pit he pulled us out of.
And down he comes again, picks us up again, rejoices again. Our God never tires of pouring out his mercy, it’s we who tire of seeking it. But if we knew the joy our homecoming brings to his heart, we would never stop reaching out our arms for our Father to pick us up again. He delights in our repentance — never stop letting him welcome you home.
Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog “Held by His Pierced Hands” and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults, leading retreats and parish missions.