GENERAL AUDIENCE: On the Parable of the Good Shepherd

‘God seeks us up to the last moment’

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Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave during this morning’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We all know the image of the Good Shepherd, who carries the lost sheep on His shoulders. This icon has always represented Jesus’ solicitude towards sinners and the mercy of God, who is not resigned to lose anyone. Jesus narrates the parable to make us understand that His closeness to sinners should not scandalize but, on the contrary, should spur in everyone a serious reflection on the way we live our faith. The narration sees, on one hand, the sinners that approach Jesus to hear Him and, on the other, the suspicious Doctors of the Law and the scribes who move away from Him because of His behavior. They move away because Jesus approaches the sinners. They were proud, they were arrogant; they considered themselves just.
Our parable unfolds around three figures: the shepherd, the lost sheep and the rest of the flock. However, the only one who acts is the shepherd, not the sheep. Hence, the shepherd is the only true protagonist and everything depends on him. A question introduces the parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?»(Luke 15:4). It is a paradox that induces to doubt the action of the shepherd: is it wise to abandon the ninety-nine for one sheep and, what is more, not in the safety of the sheepfold, but in the desert? According to the biblical tradition, the desert is a place of death where it is difficult to find food and water, without shelter and at the mercy of wild beasts and robbers. What can ninety-nine vulnerable sheep do? The paradox continues nevertheless, saying that, having found the sheep, the shepherd “lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing, and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ (v. 6). It seems, therefore, that the shepherd does not go back to the desert to recuperate the whole flock! Inclined to the one sheep, he seems to forget the other ninety-nine. But in reality, it is not so. The teaching Jesus wishes to give us is, rather, that no sheep can be lost. The Lord cannot be resigned to the fact that even one person alone can be lost. God’s action is that of one who goes in search of his lost children to then celebrate and enjoy with all finding them again. It is an unstoppable desire: not even ninety-nine sheep can stop the shepherd and keep him closed in the sheepfold. He could reason thus: “I weigh the matter: I have ninety-nine, I have lost one, but it is no great loss.” Instead, he goes to seek it because each one is very important for him, and that one is the neediest, the most abandoned, the most discarded, and he goes to find it. We are all advised: the style with which God acts is mercy towards sinners and He is absolutely faithful to this mercy: nothing and no one will be able to deter Him from His will of salvation. God does not know our present throwaway culture. God has nothing to do with this. God does not discard any person. God loves all, He seeks all, one by one! He does not know the word ”discard the people,” because He is all love and all mercy.
The Lord’s flock is always on the way: it does not possess the Lord. We cannot delude ourselves, imprisoning Him in our schemes and our strategies. The shepherd will be found there where the lost sheep is. Therefore, the Lord is to be sought where He wishes to meet us, not where we presume to find Him! In no other way will the flock come together again other than by following the way traced by the shepherd’s mercy. While he looks for the lost sheep, he incites the ninety-nine to participate in the reunification of the flock. Then, not only the sheep carried on the shoulders, but the whole flock will follow the shepherd to his home, to celebrate with “friends and neighbors.”
We must reflect often on this parable, because there is always some one in the Christian community who is missing and has gone away and left his place empty. Sometimes this is discouraging and leads us to believe that it is an inevitable loss, a sickness without remedy. It is then that we run the danger of shutting ourselves in a sheepfold, where there will not be the smell of the sheep, but the stink of the closed! And Christians? We must not be closed, because we will have the stink of closed things. Never! It is necessary to go out and not to be closed in on ourselves, in small communities, in the parish, considering ourselves “the just.” This happens when the missionary impetus is lacking, which leads us to encounter others. In Jesus’ vision, there are no definitively lost sheep, but only sheep to be found again. We must understand this well: no one, for God, is definitively lost. Never! God seeks us up to the last moment. Think of the good thief; but only in Jesus’ vision no one is definitively lost. The perspective, therefore, is altogether dynamic, open, stimulating and creative. It drives us to go out in search, to undertake a path of fraternity. No distance can keep the shepherd far away, and no flock can renounce a brother. To find one who is lost is the joy of the shepherd and of God, but it is also the joy of the whole flock! We are all sheep that have been found again and gathered by the Lord’s mercy, called to gather the whole flock together with Him!
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT] Greeting in Italian
Dear Italian-speaking pilgrims: welcome!
I am happy to receive the pilgrimage of the diocese of Savona-Noli with the Bishop, Monsignor Vittorio Lupi; the detained and families of “Our Lady of the Rock” project of Lecce and the Knights of Saint Timothy of Termoli, accompanied by the Bishop, Monsignor Gianfranco De Luca. I greet the Associations, the parish and school groups, in particular the students of the Nicolo Braucci Lyceum of Caivano. I hope your Jubilee pilgrimage is rich in copious spiritual fruits so that, by crossing the Holy Door with faith, you obtain the Indulgence for yourselves, for your dear ones and for your deceased.
A special greeting goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. The month of May is dedicated to Our Lady. Dear young people, cultivate devotion to the Mother of God with the daily recitation of the Rosary; dear sick, feel the closeness of Mary of Nazareth, especially in the hour of the cross, and you, dear newlyweds, pray to her so that love and mutual respect will never be lacking in your home.
[Original text: Italian] [Translation by ZENIT]

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