Dec 6, 2011

The path to safety

Mt 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."

(Gospel: Tuesday in 2nd week of Advent)

I have a very vivid memory from childhood of once getting separated from my family at a large event. We had gone to the dedication of a large new Catholic hospital and during the tour that was open to the public I lost my family!  The crowds were moving through the long corridors, up and down stairways, in and out the doors and elevators and somehow I found myself swept along and turned to no longer see them.

I don’t recall how old I was, likely 11 or 12 and though I felt naturally a bit uneasy, I didn’t panic.  Why?  Because before we entered the hospital my parents wisely said to all of us children that if we get lost, we should meet at a fixed location.  That location was the home of my grandparents just a few blocks away. So, I left the hospital and casually walked directly to that location and there was my entire family waiting for me. While my parents were glad to see me, my siblings pelted me with endless teasing. How typical.  Yet, how wise of my parents to say, “If you’re lost come back to this location and you’ll find us.  You will find security and safety, love and protection.”

Our Gospel for this Tuesday’s Advent Mass is written above.  Jesus goes in search of the lost.  Those who “go astray.” I had gone astray – a kind of term that intimates a deliberate walking away, not really caring about where you are and whether you will be found but curious about something different from the familiar.  I didn’t purposely wander from my family but was swept along by the crowd.
The image of sheep is such a good one for Jesus to use as he does more than once.  It is important for the herd to stay together under the protection of the Shepherd.  But, unaware of the danger that lurks out there, one independent sheep goes off on his own – he strays from the crowd.  What is the shepherd to do?  He could have said, “Well one out of a hundred is pretty good.  We can afford to let one go.  Maybe he will find his own way back. I can’t afford to leave these other 99 here.”

No, this shepherd “goes in search of the stray.”  He cares about each and every one of his sheep and desires that all come to him for safety and security.  As the Gospel says, “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” Like my parents reminding us where to find safety, Jesus becomes the very destination itself. In him we find our home. 
While my parents didn’t come in search of me since they would have never found me in the crowd, they remained fixed and I knew where to find them.  Like the prodigal son who knew where to find his father, this simple image in Tuesday’s Gospel calls us to a new path in this season of expectancy.

In this Advent season we know where to go.  We know where God has taken us in Jesus his own Son and how he has become for the world the sign of God’s infinite love and care. 
When we wander, go astray, and think there is something better out there, we could remind ourselves that there is nothing better than our faith in the Good Shepherd.  He has shown us where to find him: in prayer, the sacraments of the Church especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation, in charity towards our brothers and sisters, in the Scriptures.  All of these point the way to Christ himself and there we find our home. 

O God, who have shown forth your salvation
to all the ends of the earth,
grant, we pray,
that we may look forward in joy
to the glorious Nativity of Christ.

(Collect: Tuesday of the 2nd week of Advent)