St Peter’s Square is crowded with faithful, also thanks to the return of good weather. Today, Pope Francis focuses his general audience catechesis on the parable of the “lost sheep”, narrated in the Gospel of St. Luke. “We all know the image of the Good Shepherd who takes the lost sheep on his shoulders – Bergoglio opens his speech -. This icon has always represented Jesus’s concern about sinners and the mercy of God, which never gives up on anyone.” The Parable “should not shock us, but push us to seriously think about the way we live our faith. On the one hand, this story sees sinners who get closer to Jesus to listen to Him, whereas on the other hand it sees the Pharisees, the suspicious scribes who diverge from Him because of their behavior. They diverge because Jesus comes near sinners. They were proud, they were full of pride, and they considered themselves to be righteous.”
“Our parable – he goes on – unravels around three characters: the shepherd, the lost sheep, and the rest of the flock. Yet, only the shepherd acts; the sheep do not. The shepherd is the only true protagonist and everything depends on him. The Parable raises a question: ‘Which of you, having one hundred sheep and losing one of them, would leave ninety-nine sheep in the desert and go in search of the lost one, until finding it?’ This paradox induces us to doubt the shepherd’s action: is it wise to leave ninety-nine sheep because of one sole sheep? Especially if they are not safe in a sheepfold, but in the desert.”
“According to the biblical tradition – Francis explains -, the desert is a place of death where it is difficult to find food and water, where there is no shelter, where one is at the mercy of wild beasts and thieves. What can ninety-nine defenseless sheep possibly do there? The paradox goes on, narrating that after having found the sheep, the shepherd ‘puts it on his shoulders, goes back home, gathers his friends and neighbors and tells them: Rejoice with me’. It looks like the shepherd does not go back in the desert to retrieve the whole flock! Straining towards that single sheep, he seems to have forgotten about the other ninety-nine. Actually, that is not the case. The teaching, which Jesus wants to give us, is rather that no sheep can be lost. The Lord cannot surrender to the idea that even one sole person can get lost. The action of God is that of someone who goes in search of their lost children, then celebrates and rejoices for their retrieval together with them. It is a burning desire: not even ninety-nine sheep can stop the shepherd and keep him closed in the sheepfold.”
Then, as usually, the Pope makes an off-the-cuff comment: “He might have thought: ‘Well, let’s draw the balance: I have ninety nine. I’ve lost one. It’s not a great loss’. Nevertheless, he does not; he goes in search of it, because each of them is very important to him and the lost is the one that needs him the most, it is the most abandoned, the most rejected; and he goes to search for it.” Then, Francis continues to read the text: “All of us have been advised: mercy toward sinners is the style with which God acts and He is absolutely faithful to that mercy: nothing and no one can dissuade Him from His salvific will.”
Then, Francis speaks off the cuff again: “God knows our current culture of waste; it has nothing to do with God. God does not discard anyone; God loves everyone, He searches for all of us… All of us! One by one. He does not know the words ‘discard people’, because He is all love and mercy.” “The flock of the Lord is always on the way: it does not possess the Lord, it cannot hope to imprison Him in our plans and strategies. The shepherd will be found where the lost sheep is. We have to look for the Lord where He wants to meet us, not where we demand to find Him! There is no other way you can reunite the flock, but following the path outlined by the mercy of the shepherd. While searching for the lost sheep, he challenges the other ninety-nine to partake in the reunification of the flock. Hence, not only the sheep he carries on his shoulders, but the whole flock will follow the shepherd back home to celebrate with friends and neighbors.”
“We should think often about this parable – he comments -, because in the Christian community there is always someone who is missing, who goes away, leaving an empty place. Sometimes this is daunting and it makes us believe that it is an inevitable loss, an incurable disease. That is when we run the risk of locking ourselves in a sheepfold, where there will be no smell of sheep, but only a musty smell!” Then he has made another off-the-cuff comment: “We, Christians shall not be closed; otherwise we will have a musty smell. Never! We have to go out. That closure in themselves, in little communities and parishes… ‘We are the righteous’… all this happens when the missionary impulse that pushes us to meet the others is missing. There are no sheep lost forever in Jesus’s vision: we should understand it: for God no one is lost forever. Never! God will be looking for us until the end. Just think of the good thief; but only in Jesus’s vision no one is lost forever, there are only sheep that need to be found.”
“Hence, the prospect – the Pope concludes – is dynamic, open, stimulating, and creative. He urges us to go out and search, to take a path of brotherhood. No distance can keep the shepherd away; and no flock can give up on a brother. Finding lost people is the joy of the shepherd and that of God, but also the joy of the whole flock! We are all retrieved sheep, gathered by the Lord’s mercy, and called to unite the whole flock together with Him! Thank you”.