An Augustinian Insight on Sheep

Hearts long to be home. They yearn to belong. They want to be found. But things tend to get complicated quickly, when our hearts pull us in directions that promise all these things, and yet miserably fail to deliver, and we find ourselves on yet another goose chase. But the goose chase is good. For bound up in it, is the reality that our yearnings are not meant to be fulfilled in the fleeting pleasures of life, but rather, they are meant to be satisfied with pleasures that blow the greatest sex, the largest paycheck, and the most deafening applause of an Olympic stadium out of the water. And not only this, we were made to bask in such pleasures that are never-ending. But our hearts are excellent deceivers, and they tell us that the goose chase is better. My favorite analogy for this will always be my sheep.

Spending my teenage years with sheep, the passages of the Bible that speak of them, tend to jump out at me in live and living colors and smells. Our first herd of sheep was a gift from our closest neighbor, with whom we shared a fenceline. When we first received our little flock, we had the hardest time keeping our sheep in our pasture. They were constantly finding ways to get back to the place from which they had come. According to Saint Augustine, my sheep had a problem with “disordered loves”. In their sleuth-like, back-arching, squeezing under the barbed-wire fence act, they declared their love of something that was not only dangerous for them but also a rejection of a better, more enduring promise that lay waiting in our pastures. The greatest problem with the pastures after which they ran, was the fact that death lurked there. They exchanged a loving shepherd whose every act was on behalf of their best interests, and in exchange crouched coyotes whose every intention was to devour them. But in my sheep’s eyes, they saw a comfortability and familiarity that welcomed them to a false sense of “home”. The intense irony of this is captured in Psalm 49:14

“Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.”

In the very pastures which feel so “homey”, they end up homeless, “With no place to dwell” and their Shepherd was Death, itself. Unfortunately, this fake, sweet taste of home doesn’t sour quickly. It satisfies for a while, until we are either tempted away by another pasture, or realize that the grass that stuffs our mouths is no longer an option, but rather a habit that has enslaved and mastered us. The “freedom” with which we chose the pasture, has now become something we cannot live without, even if we tried. We find ourselves wanting to change pastures, but the power to leave escapes us, for our mouths keep stuffing themselves with the same grass that once tasted of home, but now reeks of death. So we find ourselves not only needing to be freed from our disordered loves, but we need our souls to be ordered towards a love whose promises are the real deal. How then, do we not only desire the real deal but also have the power to choose it?

In Luke 15, Jesus tells The Parable of the Lost Sheep.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his 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 than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

The shepherd seeks the one who is lost. He goes forth with the intent of making what was once lost, found. The lost sheep returns upon the shoulders of the one who sought her. The sheep does very little in this parable. She is sought. She is hoisted up upon the shoulders of her Finder and Keeper, and then, in a posture of rest, she is carried home, with great delight. And now, in the same way for us, the call from all other pastures that once tempted our wandering hearts, no longer has power over us, as we tune our ears to the voice, the rejoicing voice, of our Shepherd.

We are no longer bound to the beckoning of the pastures that once enticed us with their illusions of freedom. Those bonds have been broken by the broken body of Jesus Christ. His body was broken and his blood shed for us, that we might be found by Him and in Him. It is here we taste real freedom. Freedom not just from the noose of disordered loves, but freedom to desire and choose what is true, good and beautiful. Freedom to choose our greatest, highest, and most enduring and everlasting joy. Freedom to glorify God, by enjoying Him forever. Praise be to God who sought us as we wandered about in hell-bound pastures masquerading as “home” and “happiness”. Praise be to God, who has chosen to delight in us, has chosen to come and find us, has chosen to lift us up, that we might rest upon His shoulders, that He might carry us home. May our Shepherd’s song of rejoicing over us, His lost and found ones, ever ring in our ears. Here, we are home. Here, we belong. Here, we are found.

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