September 7, 2022, 7:00 AM

Franciscan Fractals:

      A "Contented" Sheep

Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. Luke 15:4-5

I wonder how St. Francis heard the parable of the “Good Shepherd,” often referred to as the “Lost Sheep”? This parable is one of the most frequently preached stories in the gospel, second only to the Christmas story. In its recitation through the years, it seems to have acquired many added layers of meaning, and perhaps, masking the true nature of the lamb and the actions of Jesus.

I recently noticed that some pictures of Jesus carrying the lamb portray the lamb as being multi-colored or black. These pictures may give the impression that the little sheep was a wayward creature who was headstrong, one who did not pay attention to the rest of the flock, and certainly was not responsive to the voice of its shepherd. The consequence is clear. The little sheep gets into trouble, and somehow ends up on a rocky ridge only to be rescued by the shepherd.

Most readers welcome this interpretation of the story. It fits in well with our culture of getting into trouble and wanting a way out. However, looking closer at this story, there is no mention of the color of the sheep, no mention that the sheep was wayward, or even needing to be rescued from the rocks. In addition, the shepherd is interpreted as being “good,” since he leaves the rest of the flock to get the lamb. (I wonder what the rest of the flock thought about the shepherd as he headed out leaving them behind?)

Perhaps, the shepherd is “good” not because he heads out to save the little lamb, but because he is attracted to the goodness of the little lamb. The little lamb becomes occupied with the freshness of the grassy field, and inadvertently departs from the flock because he simply trusts in the goodness of what he is doing. The lamb explores because he does not worry about what may happen. He is secure in the love of God. He is filled with pure trust, wonder, faith, and enjoyment of a world that God has created.

The other sheep may have become accustomed to focusing only on the voice of someone who shouts directions. They follow that voice without ever venturing into other parts of God’s world. This shepherd keeps order within the flock with his voice. Even more than that, this shepherd has a deep love for this lamb. This lamb trusts in God enough to venture out into the world with an adventurous spirit, and grounded only in the comfort and security that God gives.

The Good Shepherd is good because he validates the “lost” sheep who is really not lost. He comes to share in the journey of the little lamb when he places the lamb on his shoulders. God validates even our most outrageous and courageous journeys!

How is the Good Shepherd seeking you on your journey, and supporting you on his shoulders?

Blessings and Prayers for Peace,

Fr. John Meulendyk