Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!" See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
Jesus said to his disciples, "What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."
I once was lost, And now I'm found. There is a hidden depth in each person which, when it is found by God, our Good Shepherd, will become God's instrument for transforming our existence. We will be glad because 99% of ourselves will be transformed by this one percent. The lost sheep is that buried, secluded or forgotten part within each of us.
The image of the lost sheep being sought comes from Second Isaiah, as he tells of his prophetic call. God calls to heavenly beings around his throne: "Comfort, O comfort my people!" The incipient prophet asks: "What shall I cry out?" and then began a prophetic career leading to the composition of the most golden poetry in the Bible.
Jesus and his first disciples turned to this prophecy. Through it they could see John the Baptist as preparing the way of the Lord, and it helped the disciples find peace after their Master's death by execution, as they read passages like chapter 42 and chapter 53. We look forward to Christmas when Jesus steps anew into our lives to uncover hidden meanings, talents and hopes that can turn our lives around.
The policy of the shepherd in this gospel could seem a little foolish. He leaves ninety nine sheep on the hillside to go in search of one sheep who has rambled off and is now lost. He leaves the main flock unguarded to go out looking for the lost one. He risks all ninety nine for the sake of one sheep. The attitude of the shepherd is the opposite to that of the high priest Caiaphas who said about Jesus, "It is better for one man to die for the people than to have the whole nation perish." In other words, it is better to destroy one man than to put the nation at risk... the individual is expendable for the sake of the many.
The shepherd in today's parable certainly was not of that view. Jesus offers the shepherd as an image of God, and indeed of Jesus himself. God in Jesus is concerned about the one. The one is of infinite value. The Lord values each one of us; he calls each one of us by name; not one of us is expendable in his sight. The Lord is equally devoted to each individual. The parable calls on us to value each other as much as the Lord values each of us. [MH]