The Parable of the Lost Sheep – you’ve heard it countless times before and have taken in just as many homilies. I suspect the “take away” from the parable and the homily was focused on the shepherd – as it should be. I will simply say that indeed Jesus is the Good Shepherd and is relentless in search for and finding us. No matter how far we have strayed or what we have done, Jesus will find us and ever offer to take us up on his shoulders and bring us home. Always. That my friends, is as good a Good News as you can get. People of God, can I get an “Amen!”
Now there is a “take away” that you can take, consider, pray about, and reflect upon your life.
But what about the prologue and the epilogue to the story? What was the community of sheep that was left behind as the sheep got lost? Did they miss their fellow sheep? Did they notice he or she was gone? Did the mourn the leaving? Did they breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Thank God, at last…” Lots of things to consider?
Was it the original shepherd or was it another shepherd who found them? Did the shepherd bring the lost one back to the same community/flock as before? How was the lost one received? I have lots of other questions like these. But maybe at the core of my imaginings is this: where does each one of us find ourselves in the story?
In asking parishioners during the week, the common answer – and a good one – is that the sheep got distracted, saw a very nice patch of clover, got curious about something, lost track of time. Those are possibilities that makes sense to us… we who have no real experience with sheep. The folks with experience will tell you sheep don’t wander off.
The instinct to play follow the leader is hardwired into the brain of sheep. They don’t think about it. They can’t help themselves from sticking closed to the sheep in front of them. The paths they walk are not straight. They walk winding trails so they can see behind them, first with one eye and then with the other, to watch for predators. Their survival instincts prompt them to hang together in a flock to avoid these predators. A sheep will become highly agitated if it is separated from the group. Only when threatened by a predator, do sheep flee, and in doing so, sometimes a sheep gets lost.
While we share those survival instincts with the sheep – we are a bit more complicated. We can get distracted, curious, as well as feel threatened. We didn’t set out to get lost. We just get caught up in our own lives, or our kids’ lives, or our jobs consume us, until we feel so overwhelmed and empty at the same time, while our busyness takes us farther and farther away from daily prayer with God, Sunday Mass becomes an option, and we no longer look forward to seeing someone at Mass, and maybe lose the sense that God is near. Maybe something happened at church that just made us leave? Perhaps, we even lose the awareness of the need for God in our lives.
After a while a lost sheep will stop bleating out in distress. He or she just gives up ever being found. They will lie down in the wild brush, hiding from predators and from rescuers. They won’t make a sound, even when the shepherd is near. They no longer want to be found.
We can do the same thing…but as I said, we are complicated. I think there is always the spark of “I want to be found” within those who are lost. As well as the spark of embarrassment, a wondering if things will be different, wondering if we were missed, wondering if we will be accepted, included, welcomed, and made to feel at home. We wonder if we can ever again belong. Have we laid down in the wild bush of our lives, never making a sound? Will we speak up and make our needs known? Will the shepherds really come and look willing to get a bit scrapped up as they search through the briars and bramble?
Lots of going on there. As I said. We’re complicated.
In a recent article we shared in the Men’s Prayer Group, the classic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs had been rethought for 21st century life. In this new model, where Maslow positioned physiological needs (food, shelter, safety) as the base, this author held up “Belonging” as the bedrock upon which our lives are based. I think that is especially true in this modern age. People want to belong.
Your cousin who no longer attends church is a little lost. They do not belong in any faith community. Who is looking for them? Are you?
How about that person sitting right near you in the pew? Maybe you’ve seen them before, maybe not. Perhaps they are the lost sheep that is peeking out from the wild bush wanting to again belong but wondering if this is the right flock for them. Have we made them welcomed and invited them to be family, to belong?
How about that person who’ve always seen sitting right near you – but you haven’t seen in weeks going on months? Are you willing to reach out and find them in the bramble and bushes?
How about you? Is there a part of you that is not here this morning? A part of you that is a little lost?
I have lots more questions, but my point is that we are complicated. Each one us is a lost sheep, a shepherd, and one of the flock all at the same time. Its complicated, but here is the main thing to always and ever remember: (a) the Good Shepherd is ever looking for you – even if you are only partially lost, (b) the Good Shepherd is counting on you to seek out, welcome and embrace everyone – especially the lost – so as to make them feel at home, helping them to belong. And (c) for each one of us wants to come home and each one of us is called home
God desires that all be saved. May God’s desire also be ours.