Episode I — Roger, the Lost Sheep
There was great distress among the sheep. Little Wally, the son of prominent flock members, Phoebe and Arthur, was missing. The panic had begun early afternoon when he did not return from play. Phoebe told Arthur, and Arthur told the rest of the sheep.
Soon the shepherd found out Wally was gone, and about nightfall he set out to search for him. Of course, all the sheep’s hearts went out with the shepherd. Everybody liked Wally, and nobody slept a wink the whole night as the shepherd searched.
Nobody, that is, except for Roger the sheep.
Problems With Roger
Even by sheep standards, Roger was a black sheep. Whenever new lambs were born, Roger never showed up, even though custom demanded everyone pay a visit to give best wishes. This was just one of the negative character traits Roger possessed.
Among other things, Roger had a very unpleasant, grating “baah.” When it came time to move from one pasture to another, he always stayed at the very back of the flock and complained. And when it came time to be sheared, Roger kicked and thrashed about vigorously.
So it wasn’t surprising that, while the rest of the flock stayed up comforting Phoebe and Arthur, Roger slept like a log.
In the early morning, the shepherd returned with little Wally, and the flock rejoiced. All except for Roger, of course, who kept to himself, not talking to the rest of the herd.
Some weeks later, as everybody slept, a wolf crept up on the fold. He noticed one sheep was off by himself, away from the herd: Roger.
The wolf grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and dragged him away. Roger began bleating in such a loud, harsh voice that it hurt the wolf’s sensitive ears. He also thrashed around so hard the wolf eventually decided trying to eat him was not worth the effort. So he dropped Roger and left. Unfortunately, Roger had no clue where he was.
He began to appreciate now that, while the other sheep were at best a necessary evil, the shepherd had been a good and valuable friend. The shepherd had shown them to fresh new pastures and led them to cool, clear streams. Now, he was out in this rocky, barren plain with no idea how to get food or water.
Roger tried to sleep, but he kept dreaming about wolves and jackals and about starving to death. He dozed on and off, and about the time the sun was coming up, he heard heavy, deliberate footsteps. Probably a bear. Well, at least it would be quick. He closed his eyes and waited for his neck to be chomped.
Meanwhile, back at the fold, things were hopping. Agnes and Herman, the light sleepers of the herd, had stirred just as the shepherd was leaving. They figured something was up.
Agnes and Herman ran the facts through their little sheep brains and came up with only one conclusion as to why the shepherd left: Somebody was missing!
Like a brushfire, the news went through the herd: Somebody’s missing! Somebody’s missing!
All the parents checked on their children. All the husbands checked on their wives, all the wives checked on their husbands, and everybody checked on elderly relatives. All present and accounted for.
That was odd. Why would the shepherd leave us if no one was missing? They ran it through their little sheep brains again: HE’S ABANDONED US!
Within minutes, everybody had heard of their abandonment, and the fold was in a blind panic:
“He’s left us!”
“We’ve been abandoned!”
“We’re left here in the wild to starve. Or get eaten, even!”
The frenzy carried on until well after sunup. It was then they saw the shepherd coming over a distant hill. The sheep rejoiced. They gamboled and frolicked and bleated with joy even greater than they felt when little Wally was returned.
But — hey. Wait a second. What was … ? There, on the shepherd’s shoulders! It … it was ROGER!
The Nose Unnoticed
They had done their nose count, but Roger had alienated the flock so badly nobody even thought to look for him. The sheep were outraged. What was the big idea? The shepherd had left all the good, cooperative, well-meaning sheep to go rescue an obnoxious, unpleasant, anti-social one.
Finally, Arthur was appointed to take the flock’s complaint to the shepherd. They had it all written out:
- Whereas, we, the party of the first part, hereinafter referred to as “the sheep” were left alone to fend for ourselves, and
- Whereas, the sheep in question, were given no indication that the party of the second part, hereinafter referred to as “the shepherd,” intended to return and
- Whereas, the uncertainty over the shepherd’s return caused serious distress amongst us (the sheep), and
- Whereas all this distress was caused over a sheep really nobody really even hardly really liked very much in the first place really, even hardly. (The sheep had some trouble with the wording of this part.)
Therefore be it resolved:
- That the sheep do strongly protest our abandonment on the night in question,
- That we demand a full explanation of the reasons for said abandonment, and
- That we demand an apology for such thoughtless and irresponsible action on the part of the shepherd.
We demand justice.
Yours in Christ,
- P. S. It’s not fair!
And so the resolution was delivered.
When the shepherd received the message, he called a meeting of all the sheep, responding to each of the items in turn.
“Yes, it’s true I left the flock all alone a few nights ago, and you were left to fend for yourselves. But nobody seemed to mind when I left you alone to go search for Wally.”
“Yeah, but that’s different,” answered one sheep.
“As to the part about not knowing whether you’d been abandoned, well, frankly I’m a little surprised at all of you. Have I ever abandoned you before? Haven’t I always protected you from wolves and taken you to fresh pastures and clear streams? I never abandoned you before; why would I start now?”
“Yeah but this is DIFFERENT,” insisted another sheep.
“And finally, as to this part about it being unfair, what was unfair about it? Wouldn’t I have done the same for any of you?”
“Well,” said Herman, “Going out and saving all the rest of us, that’s one thing. But, well, you put all the rest of us in jeopardy for HIM.” He motioned over to Roger, who, true to form, was asleep far away from the others.
“That’s what really bothers us. Why didn’t you just let him take his chances? He didn’t deserve to get saved. It’s not fair.”
And for once, though he probably didn’t know it, one of the sheep told the truth. Half of it, anyway. Roger did not deserve for the shepherd to save him. It was not fair. The other half of the truth is none of the other sheep deserved the shepherd to save them, either. They all deserved to be left to take their chances, but they didn’t have to because of the shepherd.
This would probably be a much more satisfying story if I were to tell you Roger’s experience changed his life profoundly, and from that day forward, he went on to become a model sheep; but he didn’t. He got a little better for a while, and then he tapered off. The only real difference anyone could tell was he didn’t complain as much while moving from pasture to pasture, and he didn’t thrash around quite as much when he got sheared. Roger remained, to the end of his days, a sheep wholly undeserving of the shepherd’s rescue.
Yes, salvation comes to the undeserving. And that’s good news, because we’re all undeserving.
When we ask justice from God, we had better be careful what we are asking for. The Old Testament is full of justice, and it is not a pretty sight: Justice means a people punished for their iniquity, floods, famine, distress, mourning. Justice means we get what we deserve, and what we deserve is damnation.
God, through Christ, does not do what is fair by our standards. God does what is pleasing to God, and that is better than fair. That is grace.
For some reason we believe just because somebody wins, somebody else has to lose. But with God, that equation doesn’t work. So if there’s ever the temptation to be resentful of the salvation received by prostitutes, drug lords and other unsavory sorts, don’t worry. There is plenty of salvation for everybody — the good sheep, the bad sheep and all of us in between.