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Does the sheep know it’s lost?

January 2018 | by Paul Mackrell

We think of the little lamb wandering off and bleating helplessly. The Good Shepherd hears the cry and comes to the rescue. But does the sheep itself appreciate it’s lost? Does anyone know what’s going on inside the head of the little lamb?

The Good Shepherd does, of course; and maybe a few experienced sheep farmers might like to think their insights are close to the mark, but the rest of us would be guessing.

Even so we’d probably be right in thinking that a sheep’s head is a fairly uncluttered place, where thoughts of food and shelter reign supreme. Ewes with lambs have additional concerns, but the idea of being lost would seem beyond our woolly friends.

Bringing the analogy of the lost sheep into the theatre of human reality, there is absolutely no doubt about the parallel: the huge majority of people have no awareness whatsoever of their spiritual lostness. While even a humble sheep might be aware of needing help, our fellow man lives happily on in sinful ignorance.

Great Exhibition

One hundred and sixty-six years ago, Charles Dickens wrote a letter detailing his opinion of the Great Exhibition of 1851. In short, he didn’t think too much of it. For him there was too much to take in and he found the many varied sights left his mind in a state of confusion.

Dickens had a wide circle of friends. Included in it was the philanthropist, Angela Burdett-Coutts, who, at the age of 23 years, had inherited the vast sum of £3 million through her ancestral banking family. She had founded a school in Westminster, which is still in existence today. Geographically her school was not far from the public school at Westminster, although at polar ends of the social scale.

She evidently talked to Dickens about the occasion she had paid for a hundred of her infants to go on a school trip to the exhibition. Amused by the account, Dickens had then relayed the details of this trip in his letter.

For the hundred infants, crossing the road at Kensington Gate to get in at the main entrance had clearly been the stuff of any modern teacher’s nightmare. It seems that a good number of the children got caught up among horses’ legs as they crossed the busy road.

Dickens says that they came out reeling from between the wheels of coaches, many of them clinging to the horses. Eventually, they were collected from all over Hyde Park by their frantic monitors. Thankfully, everyone was checked and found to be all right.

One stray

Not content with this, one little boy still managed to stray. Although you might have thought that the monitors would have showed excessive watchfulness for the rest of that day at least, this particular lad was not missed.

Somehow or other, he came out of the exhibition without realising it and ended up on the Hammersmith turnpike (now the A4), the main artery road going west from London. There he wandered round and round, thinking all the while he was still in the exhibition.

When it got to night-time and the police got hold of him, he still thought it was part of the entrance money. Even a night spent in the local workhouse could not shake his belief that this was another part of the ‘Great show’.

In the morning, his mother came looking for him. The boy may not have realised that he was lost, but his mother did. Eventually she tracked him down and the two were reunited. He told her that it had been a great exhibition, but he thought it rather long!

This particular lost sheep didn’t even manage a bleat. He did not need it. His mother knew his condition far better than he did and came looking for him. He was taken from the temporary, fantasy world in which he found himself and rescued.

In his case, he was not merely restored to the other 99, but restored to the real world. Have you been restored by the gospel to the kingdom of Christ? Or are you still wandering around, ‘lost’, like a waif and stray in God’s own world?

Paul Mackrell