Misunderstanding the Shepherd
One of our main misconceptions of who the shepherd in this story is, comes from within the story itself. There is an undeniably Messianic message in this story. If the shepherd were Christ, he descends into the wilderness (this telestial world) to save the sinner from their sins. Literally carrying them, because His grace—born of the Atonement—does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. So we see pictures of Christ carrying the lost sheep back to the fold. Even The Book of Mormon refers to Jesus as “the good shepherd,” and suggests we need to be his sheep (see Alma 5:38 & Mormon 5:17). Its only natural that this parable should also have a type of Christ in it, as “all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Ne. 11:4).
However, in context, this story is clearly not portraying Christ as the shepherd; as discussed in the previous article. Instead this parable targets the leadership of the church. Probably specifically priesthood leaders. Thus the story is one teaching those who lead today, how best to bring the sinners back into the herd.
A Father’s Example
On my mission, my companion and I were invited to teach the discussions to a man who’d once been a member, but had left the church for many years. He had a good family, and his father was in the bishopric of the ward. Yet, he’d left the church and become about as lost as one can get. Though he’d been married in the temple, and had a young daughter, this man had become a leader of those lost in the wilderness. Drugs, weapons smuggling, and all the darkest parts of the night life were his daily existence. And he’d been quite successful at it too. He’d become the envy of most his associates and so-called friends. In spite of being able to feed all his physical, worldly desires & appetites, he felt unfulfilled, lost, and hungry for something, but was unable to say what it was. He had memories of his past, but most of the gospel had been completely lost. I didn’t know all this when we met with him in his parent’s home for the first time. All I knew was that this young-looking, 30-year-old man with tattoos from his neck to his wrists, who preferred to sit on the floor, was willing to be taught the gospel. We taught the first discussion, which was a set lesson at the time. It was mostly a disaster. This man’s older brother was there, and every time he’d comment, sibling rivalry would wave its arms, scream, and chase the Spirit from the room. There was a touching moment toward the end when he asked about rape and how the Church viewed it. The Spirit returned and taught me what to say that he could be touched. Possibly only because of that moment, he continued to take the discussions.
The 2nd didn’t go any better from what I heard, but due to scheduling I was working with another missionary who’s companion was teaching this man, with my companion, for the evening. But the 3rd time we met, things were different. The brother wasn’t there, his parents left us alone in the room, and in another scheduling twist, I was working with the missionary who’d taken my place in the previous discussion. We decided before arriving, that we wouldn’t teach a formal discussion. Without the flexibility that Preach My Gospel gives to missionaries these days, this was quite unusual. We started at the basics asking if he believed in God. He said he did believe in some sort of supreme being, but didn’t understand the need for a Savior and therefore didn’t believe in Christ. Which would have been our next question. Guided by the spirit, we began teaching the plan of salvation. The war in heaven, creation, fall, and atonement. We used Elder Packer’s amazing story of “The Mediator” to teach him how Christ makes it possible for us to return to our Father in Heaven. The spirit came with a strength I’ve rarely felt, as we taught. I now consider it one of the greatest miracles I’ve witnessed. Over the course of 2 hours, this man literally changed before our eyes. He went from disbelief and darkness to the light of faith, hope, and repentance. With the Spirit testifying to him, using the mouths of two young and inexperienced missionaries, this man’s faith was born anew. I don’t know how to describe what I saw and experienced, but he was changed. He looked different. Where there had been darkness before, there was light. From then on, he completely changed his life. He quit drugs and alcohol, as well as many evil habits, on the spot… never touching them again. Within a few months he was petitioning the First Presidency for a full reinstatement of his membership and blessings in the church. I’ve never seen somebody so excited and motivated to live the gospel and be a true disciple of Christ. To me, his father is the great example of the shepherd. In spite of all the evil this man did and stood for, his father had continued to love him and accept him as part of their family. Just being around this man before his conversion, was to go into the wilderness of worldly and evil things (he told us more of his past later to help us understand just what had happened). Yet his father accepted him in spite of it all, and welcomed him into his home. Until the time came that he could stand on his own and be a part of the flock again. Part 3 will focus on the story of the woman and her lost coin. Check back soon for it. Read Part 3 here.