The Gospel according to Matthew (18:12-14)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.”
As we continue on our journey toward Christmas this Advent, Jesus tells a parable that to all the shepherds He knew would say was absolutely crazy. Would a self-respecting shepherd really leave ninety-nine sheep at risk to save one that had gone missing? The answer is “of course not!” But, Jesus is making a different point here – one about the boundless love of our Father for each of us.
The shepherd in this parable of Jesus is the Father. And, if any of His children go astray, He will literally chase after us, trying to draw us back, and it is safe to say that He rejoices every time that one of His children is redeemed in that way. One other point, though: I don’t think it is correct at all to say that God somehow abandons His faithful children when He is seeking one who is lost. That’s a human limitation. God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-present. He never leaves any of us!
This is an example of Jesus using a common literary device of the time: exaggeration. Remember the Gospels record Him saying to cut off our hands if they cause us to sin, or to gouge out our eyes. Jesus is using a kind of exaggeration here, to make a point. The shepherds who heard these words would have understood. They loved their sheep and did their best to keep them safe. They would leave the rest if one went missing, but knew that the rest of the sheep would be at risk. God does not have this limitation. Jesus was using this to show how much more even than these shepherds love their sheep that He loves each of us, His children.
Part of what we do each Advent is prepare our own hearts for Jesus. God longs that we live as His children, and follow the example of Jesus. May we take time this Advent to ponder that amazing love that God has for us, and strive even more to stay close to Him. But, let us be heartened that, even if we do wander away, that loving shepherd will seek us out and will not rest until we are back in His arms again. What a wonderful joy to consider this Advent, and always!
Action for the Day:
Take time today to say a prayer of thanks to Jesus, our Good Shepherd, and ask that we do our best to be loving members of His flock, and that we share that love with someone today who especially needs to receive it.
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