A commission of the parable of the Lost Sheep. Photographs below show the progression of working an illustration towards a painting, starting with the most recent at the top, and ending with the illustration and text at the bottom.
This painting, “The Lost Sheep,” is woven together from strands of many stories, two of which I will explain here. The foremost is, of course, the parable that Jesus told to the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling about Jesus, because so many tax collectors and sinners were coming to Him. They said, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” In response, He told a parable. “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 who 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 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.” (Luke 15:1-7)
In the book of Genesis there are also many stories about sheep, but one that especially adds another dimension to this parable, because it points to Christ as a sheep caught in a difficult place, in order to serve as a substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac, when his father Abraham is commanded by God to offer “his only son, whom he loves” (Gen. 22:2) as a burnt sacrifice. The picture of a ram caught by its horns in a thicket as God’s provision for the fulfillment of God’s demand, is rich with meaning. Christ also bore thorns, the curse of this world (Gen. 3:17-18), and was sacrificed by God’s design for the tax collectors, sinners, scribes, and Pharisees alike.
As Jesus tells this parable, He gives us insight into the Shepherd’s heart. We are able to rejoice with him as friends and neighbors (although we often play the role of scribe and Pharisee). But the Psalms give us the clearest view into the heart of the lost sheep, especially in the last eight lines of Psalm 119, which all begin with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, TAU:
Let my cry come before you, O LORD;
give me understanding according to your word!
Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for your salvation, O LORD,
and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.
I hope this painting speaks light regarding the journey of faith in the Shepherd for repentant sheep who are to be rescued, and rams who are to be sacrificed, pointing to the heart of Christ, who strayed far from his home for the sake of sinners.
Many thanks to commissioners Raymond and Annie Yim for their courage, kindness, and flexibility along the way, and for their initiative and support of this project and the process.
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.