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The Parable of the Lost Sheep
All the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, 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 people who need no repentance.
‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’
In recent days I have been searching my many bookshelves for one particular book. In past times I read that book and came to love its narrative. It is a book that I have referred to and quoted from on many occasions. Then, for a time, I set it to one side. A couple of months ago, I recalled something in that well-thumbed book that might be useful in a sermon I was preparing. But, as I turned to my bookshelves I was surprised to see its familiar place taken by another volume. And so my search began. I searched high and low for that book over the course of many days. I wondered whether I might have left it somewhere? I wondered whether I might have lent it to someone who had not returned it? I even wondered whether I had thrown it out in one of my irregular purges of those overcrowded bookshelves? Then, just before I sat down to write this reflection I found my much-loved and dog-eared book. My joy and my relief knew no bounds! It is now back in its allotted space, never to be mislaid again.
In today’s reading we hear Jesus speaking of losing and finding something precious. Of course, Jesus is not speaking about a book, and neither is he really speaking about sheep and coins. Jesus is speaking about human beings and their propensity to wander from the true path of faith and discipleship. Jesus is making it clear that he understands our weaknesses and he is reminding us that he is the shepherd who is constantly searching for the sheep who have strayed from the safety of his embrace.
Our world is full of temptations. Those temptations usually serve to create a great gulf between ourselves and God. Because we are human and, therefore, inherently weak-willed we often find ourselves straying into strange and uncertain places, remote places that lead us further and further away from the God who is our Good and Loving Shepherd. As we stray, let us also pray for the comfort and joy of being found and carried back home. As we journey in dark and challenging places, let us never give up in calling out for the help of the divine Shepherd who loves us and values us above all else.