In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shares three parables to teach a lesson to his critics. The first is a story of a shepherd who abandons his flock to search for a single lost sheep. Once you get over the shock of the thought of a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to search for the one lost sheep, you discover the story really is about a more individualistic relationship with God. We are so prone to wander off like a lost lamb. God relentlessly pursues after us to find us and bring us home.
This painting explores the relationship of the shepherd and the sheep during their time spent together on the long journey home. There are many clues to their experience in the layers of paint. The shepherd has rescued the lamb from a forboding place far away from the pasture. He has been searching for a long time and distance. His face is blistered by wind and sun. The elements are harsh. There are rocks, thorny bushes, and strong winds. The shepherd is relieved that he as found his sheep. He holds the sheep securely on his shoulders, determined to not let the sheep get away. His weathered face reveals smiling eyes of joy and relief as he casts a loving look to the sheep, as if to say, “You little stinker”. The sheep rests peacefully on the shoulders and still kind of looks away, as if to still be tempted to want to go another direction. Warmed by the sunlight breaking through the stormy sky, and being rocked gently by the rhythm of the shepherd’s march, the sheep’s eyes begin to close on the brink of a much needed sleep. Both the sheep and the shepherd keep each other warm from the harsh winds by huddling close together. They are no longer alone. They are now in this mess together.
In today’s culture, its hard to paint the concept of a savior. So many images of Christ on a cross make us desensitized to the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. And the whole concept of a sacrifice seems foreign to us. But here in the story of a shepherd and a sheep, we can get a glimpse of our Living Savior. A savior who relentlessly pursues after us to the ends of the earth. A savior who never gives up. A savior who rescues us, delivers us on his shoulders, and suffers with us as we journey together on the long trek home.