Most families have one at some time -- a person bringing embarrassment and threatening its reputation. We had my brother. We were a happy, ordinary family -- probably labelled "lower middle class". Not that we ever thought about being classified. We just got on with life. My mom and dad were good, God-fearing people. Dad worked hard at his trade; he was good at it and popular.
My brother helped Dad, but often his mind was elsewhere. He enjoyed his own company and sometimes wandered off into the scrub near our house just to be by himself. I suspect he was praying. He was that kind of person -- very spiritual. He'd often read the Word and quote it to us. It irritated me sometimes -- especially when it hit the spot, highlighting a flaw in my behaviour. For the most part, though, I just regarded it as one of his quirky habits. You couldn't exactly call him a black sheep at that stage. He was just our brother who was a little different.
It was in his adulthood that our family became alarmed. He unexpectedly disappeared for over a month, telling no-one where he was going -- just wandered off and vanished. Of course, he had left home and was not accountable to us, but you'd think a son would tell his parents before he did something like that.
When he came back he was a different person and that's when our family started getting noticed for all the wrong reasons.
He started clashing with the authorities, showing them little respect and even insulting them on occasions. He also hung around with all the wrong people. Reports came to my mom he'd been seen with prostitutes, down-and-outers and ne'er-do-wells. We went looking for him to talk some sense into him, but he wouldn't even see us. He didn't want to know. He said the people he was associating with were now his family!
That's when I came to regard him as the black sheep of the family. Mom, of course, was more tolerant. She said God had a special call on his life and that we should try to understand; but I could see she was taking strain. She was worried for him.
Not that he became like the people he was with. In fact, they really seemed to benefit from being around him, and they genuinely loved him, but it was embarrassing for us.
It was obvious to the family that he was heading for disaster. The authorities were becoming more and more intolerant of his behaviour, especially as he had quite a following among the man in the street -- notably the underdog. At one stage it almost seemed as if he was deliberately looking for trouble. Finally, the authorities could stand it no longer and they took drastic action.
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When I saw him staggering through the streets under the weight of the cross, his body torn from the cat-o-nine-tails and that hideous crown of thorns piercing his forehead, light dawned within me. Suddenly I saw my brother for who he was. While I was concerned for our family's reputation, he was concerned for a family far greater. Our heavenly Father had made us spotless, yet we had blackened ourselves with sin -- with selfishness, pride and independence. We were the black sheep defiling the family of God. Jesus embraced the world as His family, while I, James, could not see past my own petty reputation. I was the black sheep. He was the spotless lamb.
As he staggered up to Calvary, my heart was broken. How I loved Him then.
I watched Him agonise for the world -- an agony expressed physically in cruel nails tearing through nerves and sinews, in shoulders wrenched out of joint and a gasping for air from lungs unable to expand.
Then a cry from his lips reverberated again and again into eternity; the final judgement on mankind:
"My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
I was filled with a terrifying, yet awe-inspiring realisation: Jesus was becoming the black sheep for all mankind. The spotless lamb took on my blackness, and that of all who ever were or would be. Enveloped in the stench of everything abhorrent to the Father, he faced His wrath. And I became white in God's eyes.
Help me, Jesus, never to forget that without You, I am the black sheep of the family. Yet with You I am spotless.
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