If I still have 99 of my sheep, but one has wandered off, what does it matter? Well, to the Good Shepherd, it matters a lot.
Pope Francis explained this during his weekly General Audience this morning in St. Peter’s Square, as he continued his catechesis for the Holy Year of Mercy, turning to Jesus’ parable of the Good Shepherd.
The Pope recalled how the Lord uses the image of the shepherd who leaves His flock to go in search of one lost sheep to express God’s closeness to sinners, and underscored that God does not want even one single person to be lost.
“The Lord, in His infinite mercy,” the Argentine Pope said, “is always ready to meet us wherever we are.” He also wants us to follow his example, Francis added, by seeking those who need God’s mercy and have gone astray.
God Doesn’t Weigh the Matter
“He could reason in this way,” Francis said, “’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.”
God acts toward sinners with mercy, Francis said, stressing, “Nothing and no one will be able to deter Him from His will of salvation.”
“God,” the Pope pointed out, “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 everyone, one by one! He does not know the word “discard the people,” because He is all love and all 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 someone 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!”
The Holy Father urged all Christians to go out and not be closed in themselves, within their small communities or parishes, considering themselves “right.” This happens, the Pope lamented, when the missionary impetus which leads us to meet others is lacking.
No Definitively Lost Sheep
However, Francis explained, 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.”
“No distance,” the Pope said, “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!”
Pope Francis concluded, reminding the pilgrims that we are all sheep, that have been found again and gathered by the Lord’s mercy, and are “called to gather the whole flock together with Him.”
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