Captain Janeway was taking on quite a task.
In an episode of “Star Trek Voyager,” the captain finds herself with three misfit crew members.
Typically, such people would be transferred to other assignments.
But that isn’t possible aboard a starship stranded thousands of light years from earth.
So the TV captain (played by Kate Mulgrew) decides she’ll try to bring the three crewmembers into the fold.
Realizing that none of them has ever been on a mission, Janeway decides to take them aboard a small shuttlecraft on an astronomical study.
The idea sounds daunting, especially considering the crewmembers involved.
One is a hypochondriac, who always thinks he’s getting sick. Another does substandard work that constantly must be double-checked and the third is an anti-social fellow whose sarcasm drives others away.
Not a merry group of go-getters.
When a crewmember called, Seven of Nine, suggests other people would serve the mission better, Janeway mentions the story of “The Good Shepherd.”
Janeway has decided to be that shepherd.
My heart sank when I heard Janeway refer to this account as a tale, as if it were some fable instead of the powerful story that Christ told.
Such stories are called parables and Jesus used them to help people understand how God works.
We can find the story in the Bible, in the book of Luke, starting with Chapter 15.
At this point, religious leaders are grumbling about all the sinful people gathering around Jesus.
That’s when Jesus tells a story, which begins with a question.
“Which of you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them, will not leave the 99 in the open country and go after the one that’s lost until he finds it?”
Stop a minute.
Can you picture a shepherd scouring the countryside, looking around bushes?
Checking behind huge rocks?
Worrying that some wild animal may have killed his sheep?
Ancient-day people could relate to the scene.
Jesus continues his story saying when the man has found his sheep, he puts it on his shoulders.
He calls his friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me for I have found my lost sheep.”
If Christ’s listeners thought this sheep-finding man was happy, they could be sure God is thrilled when one of his lost lambs is returned to the flock.
Jesus even says that.
“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need to repent,” he tells the pious religious leaders.
What did those pious guys think? Could they understand how much God values each one of us?
Whereas they saw sinners, Christ saw people with redemption potential.
I believe Jesus saw people who could far exceed anyone’s expectations and become more than they ever dreamed.
That’s apparently what Captain Janeway thinks as she embarks on the mission with her little motley crew.
All sorts of things happen.
During the mission, an invisible force hits the shuttlecraft and part of its outer hull is torn off. The shuttle becomes adrift and Janeway sends out a distress call.
At this rate, it could take years to reach the rendezvous point with the starship.
Janeway must confront this problem while dealing with the hypochondriac, who keeps scanning himself with a medical tricorder; another crewmember with no self-confidence; and the third who caustically admits he doesn’t like space exploration.
Janeway doesn’t give up.
An alien lifeform, gas giant planet and shockwave add to the adventure and crewmembers grow from the experience.
In a scene I really like, Janeway describes herself as a good shepherd, who went after the sheep — and ran into a wolf.
First Officer Chakotay asks if the shepherd found her sheep.
“I think she did,” Janeway says, smiling.
Now, you don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to appreciate the story of a leader who goes on a risk-all mission to save someone.
Yet that’s what Christ did for us.
And he didn’t just risk his life.
He sacrificed it on a hard Roman cross so believers can spend eternity with him.
Did he meet a wolf?
And not the beautiful animals we see in photographs.
This all-evil alien, Satan, sought to thwart Christ’s plan. He tried to tempt a very hungry Jesus to turn stones into bread and offered him the kingdoms of the world if Christ would bow down to him.
Jesus didn’t fall for it.
Satan did tempt Judas Iscariot into betraying Jesus to a mob in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And I believe Satan relished every blow laid upon our Lord who was whipped, beaten and mocked before he was nailed to the cross.
But we know Christ thwarted Satan’s plans when our Lord rose from the grave.
Christ paid a heavy price to restore his lambs to the fold, yet he always knew his mission.
Even before Jesus went to the cross, he said: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Christ proved his love for us and I believe with all my heart he’s a shepherd we can trust.
By the way, did you notice Jesus never says how happy the newly found sheep was to be back in the flock?
Yet wouldn’t it have been a relief?
Based on my own experience as a former boundary buster, I know a little bit about the peace of redemption.
Those of us who’ve strayed know the thrill of escape is short-lived and the wilderness can be a scary, disheartening and treacherous place.
God doesn’t give us boundaries to kill our joy.
Like the guardrails that keep drivers from hurling over a cliff, the boundaries God provides can protect us from a world of hurt and even death.
Our God is the ultimate Good Shepherd.
An earthly shepherd named David knew that when he wrote what we call Psalm 23.
It begins like this: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul….”
God can bring comfort to those of us who’ve ever seen ourselves as outsiders or misfits. He doesn’t see us that way and I don’t think he wants us to see ourselves like that either.
He wants us to know we belong — kind of like Janeway did with those crewmembers.
As I think about the TV show, I’m glad Janeway decided to go the extra light-year for her crew.
More than that, I’m so grateful to our compassionate Savior Jesus who really did go the distance for wayward lambs like me.
Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly spiritual column.
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