Does a shepherd care about a lost sheep? Does a father care about a wayward son?
Jesus Christ used both examples to assure those who have made terrible mistakes, assumed deplorable lifestyles, or suffered grievous loss that God cares for them. Jesus was being criticized because he “welcomed sinners” (Luke 15). So he defended his compassionate care with two stories that people would understand.
In the story of the sheep, a shepherd owns a hundred sheep, and one of them becomes lost. He takes a calculated risk, leaves the other ninety-nine sheep, and goes after the lost sheep. He calls it by name. He rescues it.
He joyfully puts it on his shoulders.
The wayward son isn’t ignorant, like a sheep, but rebellious. He demands his inheritance and then lives the wild life in a distant country until he spends it all foolishly. His money and his pride gone, so he returns to his father and pleads to be hired as a servant.
Instead, he is welcomed by his father like a king. A party is thrown in his honor.
Now, a shepherd may take a privilege or two away from a sheep that tends to stray, just to keep that rascal in plain sight. A father may not be so willing to extend responsibility to a foolish son. Neither indicate lack of loving care, however, but just the opposite – a loving care that is willing to help even if it hurts.
We will sometimes see the loving care of God and appreciate it. Other times we will see sadness and pain. During sad times our limited understanding can yield to our faith that God understands more than we do, and he cares in a way we can’t understand.
We turn to his promises and hold him to his Word, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).