“I must put down a dear little story told me by a friend this morning. Her small niece, aged somewhere between three and four, was heard telling the parable of the lost sheep to a cousin a year or two older. The finale was, ‘So the Shepherd put back the lamb into the fold, and then He mended up the hole where it had got out.’ All of sanctification as well as salvation lay in the wisdom of those child-lips!” Diary 28 May 1926
“‘I will tend my sheep and have them lie down,’ declares the Sovereign Lord. ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak… I will shepherd the flock with justice.'” (Ezekiel 34:15-16)
The triptych of the Parable of the Lost Sheep was drawn by Lilias during her early years in North Africa. She captures, in three frames, a sequence which illuminates the story of the straying lamb from start to finish.
Panel 1: The foolish little lamb escapes from the fold. Pert and confident it sets off – to who knows where – on its journey toward independence. A world to discover; nothing impedes the adventure.
Panel 11: A drastic change in circumstance. Who knows how far he has wandered or what he has experienced along the way. His plight is grim. Entangled in brier, he is completely at the mercy of the elements. There is no escape from the approaching serpent. The vulture circling overhead definitely is not a good sign. He is virtually without hope.
Panel 111: Saved! He is scooped up into the arms of the shepherd! Not a trace of judgment is on his savior’s face. Just love looking down, with infinite tenderness, upon the obviously shaken little lamb, holding him close to his heart. The woolly head is turned upward, gratefully gazing at the saving shepherd whom, we note, is wearing a crown of intricately woven thorns.
The triptyct depicts Jesus’ parable of The Lost Sheep. (Luke 15:1-10) It wordlessly conveys a 3-fold message: lost, sought, found. But to fully appreciate the story one must understand the context. Two groups of people had gathered around Jesus: the “good guys” (“Pharisees and teachers of the Law”); the “bad guys” (“the tax collectors and sinners”). The religious group is offended by the fact that Jesus is eating with the “sinners” – table fellowship being a sign of acceptance and friendship. Jesus’ answer to their complaint is oblique. He tells three stories about three lost things: a lamb, a coin, a son.
The parable of the lost lamb aptly describes both the character of sheep and of the shepherd. Sheep, by nature, are dumb, directionless and defenseless. “By their very nature they need a shepherd,” writes Charles Spurgeon, “and I suppose this is another reason why the figure of sheep is used to describe the relationship between the Lord and His people.” In contrast to the religious leaders who shunned the “sinner,” the Good Shepherd set off to find him. Jesus’ heart ached for sinners knowing that they were, in truth, lost. The response to the lamb being found was to throw a party – one which reverberated in Heaven! Jesus, the Great Shepherd, is even more intent and joyful than the shepherd in the parable: “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
The image of her heavenly Father as the loving shepherd was the one dearest to Lilias’ heart – the One to whom all her endevors pointed. She was unceasingly drawn to the “lost lambs” whether the prostitutes of London’s Victoria station, the street urchins of Algier, the cloistered woman of the Casbah, or the mystic brotherhoods of the Southlands. Often she shared this picture with an individual to reassure them that whatever their situation, however grave their sin, they had a Shepherd whose heart would seek after them and would rejoice when they were safely back in the fold.
Lilias used this simple picture to illustrate a life-proven truth. I have reproduced multiple copies of same, one framed and placed on a shelf along with other images of The Good Shepherd; the rest at the ready to assure a hurting heart of the love of the endlessly Seeking Shepherd. For who of us have not ached for a “lost” child or family member or friend or neighbor? Who of us have not, at one time or another, been that lost lamb? We can take comfort in the heart of a seeking – and caring – Savior: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.'” (Ezekiel 34:21-22)
“O God, we entrust all who are dear to us
to Thy never-failing care and love, for this
life and the life to come, knowing that Thou art
doing for them better things than
we can desire or pray for.”
Book of Common Prayer