Homily for December 6th, 2013:
Jesus introduces this little story about the stray sheep with a question: “What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and on of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and to in search of the stray?” The way the question is framed, with the word “not”, suggests an affirmative answer – ‘Why sure, of course that’s what the man would do.’
Suppose, however, that Jesus had framed his question differently, leaving out the “not”. Then he would have asked: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? The obvious answer to that question is: “No way would he do that. That would risk turning a small misfortune – the lost of a single sheep – into a major disaster: dispersal of the whole flock.
Jesus tells the story to illustrate how God treats us. Unlike the shepherd, God’s love for us is not measured, calculating, or (by our human standards) prudent. God is willing to go to any lengths to prevent the loss of a single one of his children.
In the second part of the story Jesus tells us that when the shepherd has recovered the one stray sheep, “he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.” That certainly seems unreasonable – until we ask: Who are these ninety-nine who have never strayed? We all stray at times – even the saints. None of the saints was perfect – except for the Lord’s Mother, Mary. The saints are people whose efforts at perfection were heroic.
Jesus told this story to assure us that God’s love or us is without limits, and without end. That is the gospel. That is the good news.