I grew up in a church that looked down on me even from my birth. You see, I was born a girl and girls weren’t supposed to have a voice in this church. We could not be leaders, teachers of men, and certainly not pastors. We were to be submissive to our husbands – in fact, to all males. I was neither slave nor free. In this wilderness, I was lost for years.
Jesus spoke in his parables of this wilderness. A wilderness where being who God created me to be was impossible — a wilderness where I could not use my gifts of leadership and teaching. Through no fault of my own, I was lost. I was like a sheep who had been told not to grow wool and not to make sheep sounds.
This is exactly what the religious leaders were doing to both the religious and non-religious people of Jesus’s day. They wrapped the religious up in rules that enslaved them. They shunned the non-religious by telling them they had no place with God.
This caused conflict between the religious leaders and Jesus. Jesus was out having dinner with lost people like me. He was inviting people like me to come out of the wilderness and into his community where we would be treasured and nourished. The religious leaders didn’t like this one bit. They wanted Jesus to leave the lost in the wilderness – a wilderness that they had created for them and where they had power over them. But Jesus explained to the religious leaders that he was the good shepherd who “came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NRS).
In Old Testament scripture, the prophet Ezekiel was angry with the religious leaders of his day, “You shepherds have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” The religious leaders of Ezekiel’s day were no better than the religious leaders of Jesus’s day. And so God speaks his mind to these leaders: “I will provide for the sheep… They are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am their God.” Jesus came to fulfill this ancient promise – to gather his sheep and carry them from the wilderness of a religion that enslaves to his beloved community.
Jesus found me enslaved in a church that kept me from being who God created me to be. Jesus picked me up on his shoulders and is carrying me – even now – out of the wilderness into his beloved community where I am nourished and cared for. And where I can nourish and care for others.
There are many things in the wilderness that keep us from being our best selves — injustices of all kinds. Your wilderness experience will be different from mine. But it doesn’t matter. Jesus came to find us, to scoop us up on his shoulders, and carry us to his community where we can flourish. It is a journey that takes a lifetime. But the ride comes with a pretty good view.
Now the lost were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the religious leaders were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes the lost and eats with them.” So Jesus told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my Sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (turns around – comes out of the wilderness – lets Jesus pick them up) than over ninety-nine righteous persons who see no need. (Luke 15:1-7)