There is usually a mixed feeling of relief and frustration when, at long last, we find someone for whom we have been searching. We feel relieved because our search is over and we have been safely united with the object of our quest. We do, however, at times feel a surge of frustration: perhaps a misunderstanding or miscommunication necessitated the "search" in the first place; maybe we did not anticipate having to circle the airport 50 times before finding our party for pick-up; and dare we muse about how we ever managed to "find" people in the dark ages, before the advent of cell phones? Surely, most of us have experienced this angst-ridden relief at finding the person for whom we were looking.
We know for sure that there were no GPS tracking devices embedded in the hooves of the sheep we hear about in today's Gospel. The shepherd who left 99 sheep unattended did not have a ETA and a cheerful voice offering to "recalculate" every time he took a wrong turn in search of his wandering ungulate. One can only imagine the frustration in the heart of this good shepherd as he searched for his missing mammal. Of the many lessons and truths hidden in this parable, perhaps one of the most striking is the manner in which the lost sheep was treated. The searching shepherd -- if he felt any frustration -- did not show the least bit of annoyance. He does not merely pick up and carry home the lost sheep; rather, "he sets it on his shoulders with great joy."
We might expect a proud parent to set a child on his shoulders when the celebrated offspring has done something meritorious. Getting lost is hardly a behavior which parents seek to reinforce (with good reason!) Principles of good parenting aside, the lesson for us, perhaps, is the gentleness with which the straying sheep was treated. How easy it is to be unkind to those who have inconvenienced us. How quickly we can forget the mercies shown to us by the Lord! How do we treat those in our lives who have strayed: from us, from the Church, from virtue, from a spouse, from family? The next time we have an opportunity to show our frustration or unleash our vexation, let us ask for the grace to imitate the good shepherd in today's parable and, with joy, bend our shoulders to carry the burden of a lost soul.
"You will catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than a barrel of vinegar."
St. Francis de Sales