Luke 15:4-5 “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture [wilderness] and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? … I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The alternate for the word “Open Pasture” struck me when I was reading this the other day, and I believe it’s a significant choice. Jesus’ audiences were generally varied, including the religiously devoted and the religiously negligent. While His messages have a discernibly central point, they are also vast, immeasurable mines of knowledge and wisdom, full storehouses for every listener present. This is why I think this passage has something to encourage–as well as exhort–those who consider themselves one of the 99.
We all know what happens to the one lost sheep–he is found! And we usually leave the 99 alone because naturally, we are focused on the rescue of the one that has wandered off vs. the others that we’re not worried about being left in the wilderness.
But for a moment, consider those left in the wilderness. The Shepherd leaves them there precisely because He is not worried about them. He is not currently anxious about their disobedience or danger. His distance is not a sign of displeasure or anger towards them. In fact, He’s left them precisely because of their obedience.
When facing times of “distance” or confusion–“wilderness” times–consider the Shepherd and your place in His flock. He is a good Shepherd. And though we know that in reality He never leaves or forsakes
us, what seems to be distance from Him may be in response to our obedience. His distance, if not directly related to sin, may reflect His confidence in our heart toward Him that He allow us to go through difficulty and be strengthened in the process. If we allow these times to test our trust in His love, we will be able to strengthen the hurting ones He brings into our lives when the sense of His nearness returns.