I was feeling 99ish.
I refer not to aging but to the story Jesus told about the shepherd that left ninety-nine sheep to look for the one that was lost. I can’t help but notice that in order to do this, the shepherd has to leave behind the ninety-nine.
To go after the one, the shepherd must neglect the ninety-nine. So, I was feeling “99ish.”
I understand this was not what Jesus intended to communicate in telling this parable, but it’s the image I often returned to when I thought of myself in church life.
My spiritual condition is generally healthy; I am one of the ninety-nine. I certainly do not mean I am struggle-free or perfect. I simply mean that, in a general and overall sense, I’m usually “doing okay.” That is, I am not in a crisis situation or in severe need of help.
Pastors are some of the busiest people I know. They are always on the go, spending what seems to be all their time ministering to a man trapped in addiction, a woman in pain and dying of cancer, a young mother whose husband is in an extramarital affair. The shepherds, being overseers of the flock, tenderly and sacrificially cared for these people. When they did, I tended to feel neglected and even jealous of the attention others received.
I call it “The 99 Syndrome.” This is not the way to be a good sheep.
Hebrews 13:17 helped me understand how to be a better member of the flock:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
(Hebrews 13:17, emphasis mine)
A healthy sheep-shepherd relationship should be mutually beneficial. If the blessing does not go both ways, something needs to change.
Before the Holy Spirit shone light on this verse, my attitude was that the shepherds of the flock were always supposed to take care of me, me, me. They were always supposed to be the givers, I was always supposed to be the receiver. Not so.
This is the shepherd’s benefit:
“Let them do this with joy and not with grief.”
This is the sheep’s benefit:
“…for this would be unprofitable for you.”
Being under shepherds was “unprofitable” for me because, as a sheep, I was not letting the shepherds care for my soul “with joy.” To demand attention and consider it as my due is to make the shepherd do his task “with grief.”
I guessed at some conclusions to help me get over The 99 Syndrome:
1. Give myself a reality check. People who need urgent care are the ones who should receive it. (Of course!) A shepherd who gave equal care to a sheep safe in the pasture and a lost sheep in danger is a bad shepherd.
2. Confess my selfishness. No one owes me anything.
3. Remember the times that I did receive care when I was in crisis. When I move from the 99 and become the 1, the shepherds do turn to me.
4. Have a “give” attitude instead of a “take” attitude. Perhaps I can be a shepherd to someone in need around me.
5. Ask God how I can be a blessing to the shepherds who watch over my soul.
What thoughts do you have, from either the sheep’s or the shepherd’s perspective? Any stories or insights to share? Any experiences or relationships you’ve learned from?
Linking with Ann Voskamp who hosts a community of those who share about “The Practice of Relationship”:
Linking with the “Unwrapping His Promises” community hosted by Duane Scott (for Hebrews 13:17 does contain a promise—or perhaps more of a natural consequence):