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Jesus said to his disciples, ‘What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’
Have you ever got lost? Perhaps you have been walking in an unfamiliar town, or perhaps you have been driving through unfamiliar countryside, when it has dawned upon you that you are lost. Can you remember (or imagine) the feelings of confusion, fear and panic? Can you also remember the feeling of overwhelming relief when you were either found, or when you got back to surroundings that were familiar to you. In our modern age of Satnavs and other such devices we get lost less frequently, but it does happen, and when it happens the panic engendered by being let down by our modern technology can be even greater and more vivid.
So, having reflected on a moment when we have got lost, let us turn to the single sheep in today’s reading. Being in a flock with ninety-nine other sheep offers comfort and consolation. Being separated from the other ninety-nine must bring on those feelings of alarm and fear that we have just tried to recall. When we get lost we often become incoherent because of our fear, the sheep separated from the rest of the flock does not have the option of asking his or her way back. The alarm and the fear must be overwhelming.
Today Jesus is once again speaking of the human capacity to get it wrong. We all take wrong turns in our lives. We all get lost from time to time. Jesus is, of course, not talking about being lost in the geographical sense. Rather, he is talking about being the member of the flock who is spiritually lost. He is speaking of those who have lost all sense of direction in relation to their moral compass. He is asking us to reflect on our commitment to living the life of faithful discipleship, the life that rejects the temptations that lead us astray, the life that gives us an ever-strengthening relationship with God.
When human beings get things wrong, when they make wrong decisions or become involved in acts that are contrary to God’s teaching, they become lost. When we are dishonest, whether in large or small matters, or when we turn our backs on the needs of those more vulnerable than ourselves, we are lost. When we decide that our own wisdom is superior to the divine wisdom of God, or when we exploit the generosity or incapacity of others, then we are lost. In those negative times we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness alone, in urgent and desperate need of companionship, generosity and love.
Today Jesus is charging us to avoid being the single sheep which gets lost. He is also charging us to take on the role of the shepherd. Jesus does not just want us to lead ‘good’ lives, he also wants us to lead lives that reflect his love for all. He wants us to let others know the joy, the warmth, the companionship and the comfort of Christian love. He wants us to be ever watchful for those who may be wandering from the sheepfold. He wants us to remember what it feels like to be lost and to help others in the same position.