Shepherd

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15: 3-7 NIV)

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They were waiting, his brothers,
the other boys his age,
four hundred yards from the last
house of the village in the dark,
set for ambush where the track
wound among the standing stones.

They leaped out,
circling like a pack of dogs,
driving him on, stumbling…

“Hey! Y’shua!” “Bastard boy…”
           “Where’ve you been?”
“Looking for his father in a bush, I bet.”
            “A burning bush…” “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.”
“Ha ha.”                “Ha ha.”
“Left the sheep to straggle home alone.”
                               “Some shepherd…”
“Dragging in after dark, ashamed of daylight he is.”
“Did you lose something Y’shua?”
                 “Fell asleep, didn’t you?”
“Listening to the angels sing again?”
“He’s been with his father up in the clouds;
                   see the raindrops in his eyes…”
“Yeah. There’s mud on his cheeks where they ran down.”
“Ha ha.”
          “Ha ha.” 
          “Ha ha.” “Ha ha.”

Y’shua clutched the lamb tighter to his chest and,
with a short run that tore his tired lungs,
pushed through the ring of laughter and turned.

He caught the eye of each tormenter,
moving silent from face to face in the starlight
until each dropped his own eyes;

they let him go…

His brother James came from
the back edge of the circle,
his face set with shame and anger,
and fell in beside, half lopping to keep
up with his brother’s longer stride.

“You’re in for it now, you know…
They’re all there at the fold waiting:
Uncle Samuel, Benjamin, the widow Miriam
old Saul…all of them!
They’re mad about the sheep,
saying they never should have trusted
you with a shepherd’s turn.

“Father…he just sits smiling,
telling them the sheep are safe home,
at least, making them all madder.

“And the women…they’re all at mother, old crows…
‘A wolf has taken him…’ they say,
‘or a lion.’
‘He hasn’t sense enough to protect himself…
what are they thinking sending him
out with sheep…and lambing time too!’”

“Y’shua…” he grabbed his brother by the sleeve
and tugged him round, “Say something!”

“Baaaaaaaaaaat” the lamb felt the boy’s
hold falter as he turned.
Y’shua hitched the woolly bundle up higher in his arms,
feeling the heart race, the breath rasp.
He bent and whispered in the twitching ear
before answering his brother.

“The lamb was lost…”

James, for the first time it seemed,
noticed the bundle of legs,
bright eyes and ears,
heard the exhaustion in his brother’s voice,
saw the ripped hem and the dirt on his robe.

“A lamb?” He stood and shook his head.
Y’shua walked on alone.

The boys circled round through the houses
of the village (once Y’shua’s eye was off them)
and clustered at the edge of torch-light at the fold.

They saw Y’shua come along behind the houses,
saw the elders fall silent,
the storm of their anger taking aim,
saw Y’shua walk through them
to the fold gate and slip the lamb inside,
heard the bleat and blat chorus
as lamb found dam and ewe her lost one.

There was a humphing and a stir among
the elders when they saw the lamb,
a general swallowing of words already half spoken,
a shuffling of feet and shifting of eyes.

Old Saul finally spoke…
“Ah…Y’shua…the sheep came home alone…”

Miriam, never one to be done out of a good harangue,
pushed forward, caught hold of the rags of her rage, and spit…
“You left them in the hills! With lions! With bears!”

“I left them,” Y’shua said, “with my father,
who rides the thunderheads and sets limits on the sea,
who feeds the lions and the bears
and the monsters of the deep,
who keeps the sheep he gives us…
keeping both them and us,
in the hollow of his hand, in the center of his heart…
while I, I went to find that one lost lamb.”

He looked again from face to face,
seeing the young shepherds’ eyes behind
the white beards and the grizzled forelock braids,
seeing the goat-maid, windblown and sun-brown,
still harbored within the widow.

He remembered the anguish of the search,
the wrenching panic when,
as hour by hour the light drained from the sky,
and he could not find that single lamb…

He heard again, echoing among the rocks,
the pathetic, life-lost, bleat that pulled him
at last to the high ledge.
He felt the bite of the stone again,
sharp beneath his hand,
heard the slither as the slope gave
beneath his sandaled foot,
smelled the bruised herbage
and the urine fear of the lamb
mingled with his own too-sweet sweat…

He remembered too, the joy that washed him
when the lamb was safe in arms,
the up-welling peace, warm and homily,
smelling of wool and dust and life,
that carried him past weariness and night-fear home.

He saw Joseph’s slow smile,
and knew they knew, all of them.

“And which of you would not have done the same?”

He left them grumbling, wagging heads
and tongues at his boldness (at his knowing)
as Joseph gathered him, arm across his shoulders,
and took him home.

 

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