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Losing Sheep

September 11, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

September 11, 2016
Luke 15:1-32
Fr. George Smiga

We all know the parable of the lost sheep—or do we? What challenges us about this parable is that there are two versions of it, one in the gospel of Matthew and the other in the gospel of Luke. And the two are not the same. Matthew’s version is better known. In it a shepherd has 100 sheep and one goes astray. The shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness and finds the sheep. In this version of the parable, the shepherd is usually seen to represent God, the God who seeks out any one of us who goes astray. So in Matthew, this parable is about God seeking out what is lost.

Luke’s version, which is today’s gospel, is different. In his story, the sheep does not go astray. The shepherd loses it. Luke says, “Which one of you having 100 sheep and losing one of them…” So if the shepherd in Luke loses the sheep, he cannot represent God. God loses nothing. The shepherd in Luke’s version must represent us, because we are the ones who sometimes lose what is important to us. Luke’s parable intends to reflect upon that experience.

How does a shepherd lose a sheep? By not noticing that it is missing. It is hard to watch 100 animals, but a good shepherd knows how to keep his eye on what belongs to him. So Luke’s parable poses this question to us: What person or what thing of value could be missing from your life and you have not yet noticed that it is gone? Could it be a son, daughter, or elderly parent whose circumstances have changed and now need you in a new way, and you are still living life as usual? Could it be a friend who has lost respect for you because of a mistake or insensitivity and has now left your life, and you have not yet realized the absence? Could it be a joy that once was a part of your work or your marriage but now has gone missing? Our lives are full, as full as a field of 100 sheep, and that is why someone or something important can slip away without us noticing that it is gone.

Here is where the example of the shepherd in Luke’s version of the story is valuable. This shepherd, once he notices that he has lost something important, goes out immediately to find it. He makes it his top priority and puts everything else aside, including 99 other things which he also values. He is determined to find what has slipped away. This shepherd does not surround himself with regret, saying, “I should have noticed that she was leaving. I should have been more sensitive.” This shepherd does become stuck in self-pity, concluding, “I am really not that good a shepherd, or a parent, or a friend.” This shepherd chooses to act, to search out the one thing that is missing. He is determined to make his life whole again.

Luke’s version of the sheep story calls us to that kind of action. Once we notice the one person or the one thing that we have lost in our lives, this parable encourages us to expend all our energy to find it. Now, of course, there is no guarantee that we will be successful. Some people leave our lives, and we can never find a way to bring them back. Some blessings slip away, and we can never claim them again. But it is important to make the effort. Even if we have to leave behind 99 other valuable things, our attempt is worth it. This parable understands that when we find the one person, the one thing who has slipped away, there is a particular kind of joy. Then we will be able to say to our neighbors and our friends, “Rejoice with me, because my daughter, my friend, my joy that I lost I have now found again.”

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