The crisis began when one sheep went missing. There seemed to be no reasonable explanation for the disappearance, which made it all the more disturbing for the ninety-nine sheep who remained in the Good Shepherd’s sheep-pen.
The parents whispered their theories to one another, so as not to frighten the little lambs.
“Perhaps a thief broke in at night and took her…”
“There are wolves out there, and they are crafty…”
“She was always a black sheep, maybe she just left…”
The more they talked, the more their anxiety grew and before long the entire flock was in a near panic.
Eventually, an elderly ram decided he needed to say something in order to calm everyone’s nerves. He gathered the whole flock together on the greenest patch of grass, near their picturesque pond, and began to console them.
“Remember,” he said, “the Good Shepherd brought us here years ago. Have you forgotten what it is like on the outside?” A murmur of shared trauma spread through the crowd.
“Do you remember what our old lives were like when we had to fend for ourselves? We lost sheep everyday to wolves, to coyotes, to thieves. We were miserable until the Good Shepherd came into our lives. He saved us!” One of the older sheep who had lived through those terrible years shouted, “Amen!”
“And the Good Shepherd brought us here,” the elderly ram continued, “to live in safety.”
“We have plenty to eat and drink. Our fences and gates keep us safe. We can raise our lambs without fear. So we should keep in mind the words of the Good Shepherd himself: Do not worry.”
The flock was silent until one brash young ram spoke up, “But where is the Good Shepherd, now? We haven’t seen him in years! If he is so good, why doesn’t he come back to us?”
The elderly ram bristled and shouted back, “The Good Shepherd knows what he’s doing! We have always trusted him and he has kept us safe!”
“Until now.” said another sheep – this time a middle-aged ewe.
This was quickly getting out of hand, so the elderly ram changed tactics.
“Listen, I know you are scared. We will post guards at the four corners of the pen, they will keep watch at night and ensure that we lose no one else!”
This seemed to satisfy the crowd and everyone went off their own way.
A few weeks passed and the sheep pen returned to normal. Everyone had all but forgotten about the one missing sheep when she showed up again suddenly at the gate of the sheep pen. The other sheep immediately ushered her into the safety of the pen and began peppering her with questions:
“Where were you?”
“Are you hurt?”
“How did you find your way back here?”
But she refused to answer any of their questions and instead startled them with a troubling pronouncement: “I’ve seen the Good Shepherd and he sent me here to take you all to him!”
The shock of this statement disquieted the growing crowd.
“You want us to leave the sheep pen?”
“But it’s dangerous out there.”
“Why should we trust you?”
Finally, one of the young ewes asked, “What is the Good Shepherd like?”
The missing sheep turned to her and said, “He is the most wonderful Shepherd in the world. He is gentle and caring, but brave and fierce at the same time. He knows the land inside and out – every pond and stream, every meadow and mountain. Wolves hear him coming and run the other direction. You never have to be afraid when you are with him.”
The young ewe thought about it for long time and then finally said, “I’ll go with you. I want to see the Good Shepherd myself”
So the flock looked on in horror as the two sheep left the security of the pen and wandered away in search of the Good Shepherd.
When the elderly ram heard about this, he was furious. Immediately he doubled the number of guards at the gate and at each corner of the pen. He set curfews for the youngest sheep and demanded that everyone stay in groups of three or four at all times.
Yet, despite his best efforts, sheep continued to go missing. Everyday, there were less and less in the pen.
He tried to reason with the flock, “Don’t leave the safety of the pen. The Good Shepherd promised he would come back for us. Where is your faith? Stay here. He will return some day!”
But no one listened. And eventually, that elderly ram was the only sheep left in the sheep pen. He was lonely and scared but trusted that the Good Shepherd would return – even if he was the only one left who had been faithful.
And one day, the Good Shepherd did, indeed, return.
He entered the gate, smiled, and gently placed the one lost sheep on his shoulders.