Bringing Home the Lost

6 December 2005: Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Advent
Matthew 18, 12-14: The Lost Sheep

George Adam Smith said, “On some high moon across while at night... when you meet him, sleepless, four sighted, weather-beaten, armed, leaning on his staff and looking out over his scattered sheep, everyone of them on his heart, you understand why the shepherd of Judea sprang to the front of his people’s history, why they gave his name to the king and made him the symbol of providence; why Christ took him as the type of self-sacrifice.”

The shepherd in Judea had a hard and dangerous task. Pasture was scarce. The narrow central plateau was only a few miles wide, and then it plunged down to the wild cliffs and the terrible devastation of the desert.

The shepherd was personally responsible for the sheep. He knows that to risk his life for the flock, for each individual sheep, is service to the community. Many of the flock belonged not to individuals but to the whole town, and thus were communal flocks. Usually, two or three shepherds were asked to tend the flock. So when a sheep had been lost, one of them would look for it, and the rest would come home to tell the villagers that a shepherd was still out there seeking for it. And when the shepherd appeared with the lost sheep, they would rejoice in thanksgiving.

This is what God is: a shepherd. He rejoices over one lost sinner who is found. God knows the joy of being found. This is God’s kindness; kinder than many of us. Our prejudices over certain people have made us unwelcoming of them. Jesuits working at the Philippine Jesuit Prison Service in Muntinlupa relate stories of former prisoners who found it difficult to find jobs or to enter into society. In some tenets of particular groups, certain individuals are disallowed from joining for reasons of their affiliations with other organizations such as fraternities and sororities, religious affiliations (some Catholic organizations can be very exclusive), and sexual orientation. We would ward off people who have hurt us when they return to ask for our forgiveness. We may have given up hope for a son who has misbehaved terribly. But not with God: it is a million times easier to return to God than to be home with people.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be like God who accepts everyone. We are called to be neighbors to all, and to show special favor and attention to the poorest, to the loneliest, to those most in need and to the lost sheep. We are asked to open our hearts and leave our prejudices and our comfort zones behind. We are not asked to donate (donation is a safe mode: it does not involve risk-taking and selfless service), but we are asked to commit our lives to be men and women for others. “As often as you did it for one of my least brethren, you did it for me” (Matthew 25, 40). If we are God’s children, then each of us, that is, as a child of God, reflects our Father.

In this Season of Advent, we are asked to be shepherds like God. We are challenged to actively find our lost siblings and to bring them back home. And while we set forth to find them, let these words from St. John Chrysostom ring in our hearts: “Do you wish to honor the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage here in the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it suffers cold and nakedness.”

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