About once a week, I’ll be enjoying the first sips of coffee, gazing out the kitchen window, and I’m startled at the sight of something white and fluffy frolicking in the fields. My heart returns to pace when I realize it’s no loose sheep, just my mother’s standard poodle, Lily. Imagine this same scene, the lush pasture, sputtering coffee pot, and old barn, but stretch your imagination and picture that poodle, now pink. I’m still not sure what it says about the state of the world, but apparently, it was cheaper to dye poodles this Easter than eggs.
Knowing Lily, I understand why Jesus never gave us the Parable of the Lost Poodle. The Good Shepherd did, however, pose this question: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?” (Lk 15:3).
Christ invited the listeners to imagine themselves as a shepherd who has lost a sheep. Like the sheep they watched, they were to pause, chew, and ruminate on the question.
If they were shepherds and lost one of their one hundred, would they go after it? What big loss is one troublemaker if there are ninety-nine well-behaved others? Would they go to search the wilderness?
Jesus continues, “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost’” (Lk 15:5-6). This is no lack of joy with the faithful ninety-nine; rather, it is an underscoring of Christ’s desire that he wants none to be lost, not even one.
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I limit my perception of Jesus to the gentle, well-groomed shepherd of old paintings, but I know the Lion of Judah is so much more. We can seek to know Christ from books, and we can learn how he’s both beginning and end, both God and man. But in prayer, we find him. We find that he’s both Love and Truth. Justice and Mercy. Jesus is both the Good Shepherd who leads us and the Lamb of God who saves us.
Back to the big question…
Even today, we must be like the smelly, dirty shepherds of old and go out into the wilderness with the wolves and the (sometimes scarier) pink poodles. We are to be found with the lost. We are to go after the straying sheep, even the ones who wish to be forgotten. For as St. Augustine said, we are to go after them, and when “brambles of the forest tear at me when I seek them, I shall force myself through all straights; I shall put down all hedges. So far as the God whom I fear grants me strength, I shall search everywhere.” We are called to gather the flock—the strong, the limping, the tired, and the young—and rejoice in the saving mercy of the Lord.
I think of those in prison ministry, those who go to death row and proclaim love and redemption to those who are perhaps the most lost of the lost. That would be difficult, but God is with us in every wilderness. How about in our daily lives? Do we go after the heart of the troubled teen? The grumpy elderly lady? Do we see the potential of grace in opposing political figures? When we look in the mirror, when we look into our sleep-deprived, screen-strained eyes, do we see a little, lost sheep? Do we see someone that Christ loves so much that he would brave the wilderness? The cross? If not, close those weary eyes and find him in prayer.
Friends, he rejoices over you. With his angels and the saints in Heaven, he rejoices over you.