The gospel today is the parable of the Good Shepherd who, having lost one sheep, leaves the ninety nine and goes to find the lost sheep, and brings him home on his shoulders.

The traditional image is of the gentle good shepherd, with perhaps a tear in his eye, giving the poor lost lamb a lovely cozy cuddle as they wander home together.

However, another more shocking image is given by those who have studied the working methods of first century Palestinian shepherds. They say that the shepherd would correct a wandering lamb by breaking it’s leg. That way it wouldn’t wander off again–indeed, couldn’t wander off again. The shepherd did this not only to discipline the lamb, but to protect him, since to wander off would make him vulnerable to the wolves.

This may be shocking to those who cherish the image of the gentle good shepherd have a sweet little canoodle with the cuddly little lamb, but whether it is factual or not (and I am no expert on first century livestock handling) it somehow rings true to the rest of the image of Jesus in the gospel. That is to say, Aslan is not a tame lion. Jesus is our friend, but he is also the dread judge of all. His loving mercy is tender, but it is also sometimes severe.

Maybe he has allowed that dark spot in our lives, that sore point of suffering, that seemingly inexplicable non-answer to prayer, that difficult relationship, that perennial weakness, that seemingly absurd suffering as the ‘broken leg’ that keep us close to home and close to Him.