When I first started meditating on the scriptures the parable of the Good Shepard was one I had some trouble with initially. As a businessman I had great difficulty understanding this shepherd being anything but unreliable. The shepherd had to lead them to water and good pasture as well as to keep them from wandering off, protect them from predators or from being taken by thieves. The fact that he left the entire flock to look for one sheep means that the rest of the herd could be attacked by predators or wander off or to be led away by thieves. He was risking losing ten, twenty or the entire flock for the sake of the one missing one.
From the owner’s perspective this shepherd was unreliable and incompetent deserving to be replaced by another more qualified shepherd. Yet Jesus uses it to teach us a lesson about how much he will risk to save one of us. I am not sure many people will hear this parable and think of it in the way I just described. It is a heartwarming parable giving us hope because God is revealing his unrelenting quest to prevent us from continuing to follow a path to our destruction.
In one sense this parable is another of those revealing the mercy and longing of God for us to be in his presence. It, like the prodigal son parable, shows us his heart for those who wander away from his presence. He is willing to keep looking for us to return, to come to our senses and to allow him to bring us back to the place where we can be restored. In the case of the lost sheep it is to be restored to the flock and be nurtured by the shepherd to grow to maturity and produce. To the prodigal the plan is identical, he is to be restored to the family and nurtured by a loving father to grow to maturity and expand the kingdom of the father.
My feeling on how incompetent the shepherd is because of his leaving the flock is not unlike the feelings of the older brother who has issues with the prodigal’s restoration. It just does not make sense to us because those irresponsible individuals need to pay the price for their failures.
This is exactly why we fail to understand anything about the Lamb of God being sacrificed for the sins of us all or the shepherd who leaves the 99 to go look for the one lost sheep. Each day while the prodigal’s father stood watching for the son’s return the older son was faithfully doing what the father expected of him. Was his father ignoring him or unaware of his faithfulness? We can easily get the impression that was the case by the older son’s words. Father “…for so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and you have never given me….” There it is – we do expect to be rewarded for faithfulness.
The owner of the flock is not going to reward the shepherd for neglecting the entire flock to save one stupid sheep who wandered off. However, the focus of these parables is on something else. The father and the shepherd.
In each parable we are being given a different picture which should shake our sense of believing we are worthy of something for our faithfulness.
God has promised us something that we have not earned or even deserve. He says to the older brother “all I have is yours” and that is exactly what he has said to us. We are reminded that we are sons and daughters heirs to the kingdom because of his generous love of us not because we have earned it. Peter tells us this in the first reading when he said: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
The parable of the good shepherd tells us how far God will go to bring us back to his flock if we wander off he will not leave us to find our way home as the prodigal did. He will come after us and he will continue to seek us until we learn the lesson of remaining in his protective care. He reminds us that there was a lamb that was sacrificed for us so that we can stand in his presence fully restored and he will celebrate because we allow him to restore us. This is the identical situation of the lost sheep being restored to the flock. We need to understand the desire of God to embrace those lost as well as those who remain faithful.
There is a lesson in this parable for us and it is our own need to have the heart of the shepherd for the lost sheep. We have this tendency that the lost are lost because they have followed their own way so let them pay the price for their stupidity. This was the attitude of the prodigal son’s older brother. We need to learn the lesson that what God offers us is not because of our faithfulness but because of his love for us. What we do in return is because we love him back knowing all he has is ours.
Today is a day to allow ourselves to be carried by Jesus to the very heart of God so we will desire to remain in his presence always.