What is God like? How does he feel about us ... about you and me? Jesus tells us through three stories -- about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a man whose son had gone wrong. In the society of Jesus’ time, many of the flocks of sheep were owned by the community; two or three shepherds were in charge. Sometimes the shepherds whose flocks were safe would return on time and tell the people that one of them was still out in the mountains searching for a lost sheep. The villagers would all be keeping watch, waiting for his return. When he appeared in the distance, with the sheep over his shoulders, the whole community would shout with joy. That’s the picture that Jesus draws when he says there will be rejoicing in heaven over a sinner doing penance. The coin that the woman lost was valuable. The floors of peasant dwellings were dirt and bulrushes; the light was poor. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. The woman is so relieved when she finds it, that she’s out in her back yard telling her friends the good news. What a picture of God! How literally down to earth! In the third story, the man hasn’t lost a sheep or a coin; he’s lost his son. The kid couldn’t wait for the old man to retire or die; he wanted his inheritance now. After blowing all the money, he comes home with his tail between his legs. The father sees him when he’s still a long way off; he must have been looking for him. There are no recriminations. He doesn’t even listen to the apology. All he says is, "You’re back! Let’s throw a party!" These three stories are wonderful news for you and me ... so wonderful, we’re afraid to believe it. Our God is not a stem, unforgiving taskmaster who keeps track of all the bad and dumb things we do. He’s a shepherd who works overtime to bring us back. He’s a woman who’s overjoyed at recovering something precious. He’s a loving father who watches out for us even when we’re a long way off. No matter how far we stray, he never stops reaching out to us and throws a party when we return. James DiGiacomo, S.J.

Comments

Anonymous | 9/16/2007 - 3:57pm
Forgive a small "Thank you." I hadn't understood why shepherds were on the list of scummy occupations (Jeremias: Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus) but I never took the time to find out why. Now understanding that the sheep belonged to the community and that the shepherds were only hired hands, Jesus's use of this despised group gives greater power to his parable. This fact also answers my own original confusion, if they were not the owners the shepherds had incentives to turn 'rustlers' in lambing time. Today's shepherds (also usually hired hands) are paid a fee for each lamb delivered alive and well, and I suspect it was so in the Galilee too. Once again Jesus must have caught his audience off guard-- rustling, sure; risking his own life? What kind of shepherd would ever do that? Only one kind. Thank you for giving me a new perspective on a story I have been hearing for more than seventy years.