The parable of the lost sheep has always troubled me. I much prefer the passivity of the prodigal son’s father who patiently waited for his son to return home. Jesus, the good shepherd, leaves the 99 to find the one sheep who wandered away from the heard.
What about the 99? What about the sheep who stayed close to the shepherd? The 99 also need Jesus. What if a pack of wolves gets near them? Do the 99 need saving? Do they need protection, love and the grace to stay with the shepherd? I assume the 99 sheep represent the faithful. Why attend mass or teach catechism if Jesus would just leave us, the faithful, to fend for ourselves?
I realized about a year ago that if the good shepherd does not go after us one by one he will lose us all slowly. We wander away one at a time. We don’t leave the church en masse.
We join the church en masse.
The Catholic News Service reports that in the Official Catholic directory for the year 2011, in the United States:
830,673 infants were baptized Catholic
43,335 adults were baptized Catholic
72,859 Christians were confirmed Catholic
and 5,247 men were enrolled in seminary. This is not to say they that all joined in 2011.
One family at a time we leave the herd. One family gets distracted by the river of “things to do on the weekend.” And one of us is pulled away by porn. The shepherd brings that family back, and that young man back to the herd. Then a different one of us drinks from the brook of booze and falls down. The shepherd picks that one up and brings her back.
Later a small lamb searches out for another small lamb because she feels that she does not fit in with the more sizable sheep. The shepherd searches in the woods near the clearing and leads that one back. And so it goes.
We all wander away; not as a group, and not permanently. I think we take turns. Just as you and I rotate in and out of the herd, we also must take turns being the shepherd.
When we see one sheep who cannot keep up with the flock, we need to slow down and wait with them while they catch their breath and can keep up with the herd. Is Jesus calling you to drive an elderly person to mass?
Is Jesus calling you to be a shepherd to one who is lost? Is Jesus calling you to steer the one parishoner who is sinking in the sewer of sadness or depression back into the sacrament of reconciliation?
Is Jesus calling you to be a shepherd to one who is stuck in the thorns? is Jesus calling you to announce to that one parishioner who you yourself over came porn addiction and returned to the Catholic herd?
Jesus did not guide the herd to the one lost sheep; he went out by himself to the one lost sheep. Maybe he calls us to do the same. Jesus calls us to shepherd one person or one family at at ime. Jesus wants you to be shepherded back to the flock when you yourself stray. Maybe he was calling us to do the same for each other.