September 11, 2022; Luke 15:1-10; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The parables of Jesus can be understood in different ways. This is especially true when there are two versions of the same parable. This is the case today in the parable of the shepherd and the sheep that we just heard from Luke’s gospel. There is another version of this parable in Matthew’s gospel. In that gospel, a sheep goes astray, and the shepherd searches diligently until he finds it. The shepherd in Matthew’s gospel is often said to represent God, who searches diligently for us, whenever we go astray. But the shepherd in Luke’s gospel is different. In Luke’s gospel, the sheep does not go astray. The shepherd loses it. This is the verse you just heard: ‘What man among you having one hundred sheep and losing one of them.” If the shepherd loses the sheep, the shepherd cannot represent God, because God loses nothing. The shepherd in Luke’s gospel must represent us.
Indeed, Luke’s parable of the sheep asks us to assess who and what that is valuable have we lost from our lives. It also suggests that we might have lost those things because we have too much to handle. When Jesus first told this parable, he told it to poor shepherds in Galilee. Any one of those shepherds would consider himself very fortunate if he had ten sheep. So, when Jesus tells them a parable about a man with a hundred sheep, they must have been shocked. “A hundred sheep! That’s too many. Too many to watch, too many to protect, too many to have. If you have a hundred sheep, sooner or later, you will lose one of them.”
We are the shepherds with a hundred sheep. Many of us must juggle many responsibilities. There are too many demands at work, too many needs in our children, too many ways we must grow and communicate with our spouse, too many soccer games we must drive our children to, too many friendships we must maintain. Since we are shepherds with a hundred sheep, it is likely that, sooner or later, we will lose one of them. When we recognize that someone or something valuable in our lives has been lost, today’s gospel asks us whether we are willing to go out to find it again.
What is something valuable that you may have lost in your life: a relationship, because of a misunderstanding or hurt, someone who simply left your life without you noticing it, someone that you always presumed would be there but when you looked you found that he or she was gone? Could you have lost a sense of happiness or enthusiasm? Did you once have a sense of joy that somehow slipped away when you were busy attending other things? Today’s gospel asks of us what are we willing to do to get back whomever or whatever we have lost. Perhaps today is the time that we need to pick up the phone and call a friend that we have not spoken to in way too long. Today could be the opportunity to test the waters and see if it’s possible to forgive a family member. Today could be the day to set aside the ninety-nine responsibilities that are justly ours and ask ourselves: “Why is my life so dull? Why has it been so long since I have had a sense of peace?”
Now, of course, there’s no guarantee that if we go out looking for what we have lost, we will find it. But today’s gospel asks us to try. And it assures us that if we find what we have lost, there will be great joy—joy enough to call together our family and friends and say “I thought she was gone for good. I thought I would never laugh again. But rejoice with me, for I have found my lost sheep.”