"It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost." Mt 18:14
Not infrequently, a few of us friars, as a way to wind down after a long day, watch a nature show in the evenings. Often, the program is about the hunting abilities of a particular breed of big cat, and it is always fascinating, if a little unnerving, to watch the animal as it isolates a young antelope or gazelle for its next meal. Cunning and fast, it waits for the perfect moment before swooping in for the kill. Sometimes the younger and smaller animal, sensing danger, is able to retreat to the safety of the herd and the cat slinks away in search of another more vulnerable target.
Jesus is talking about much the same situation in the today's gospel. When a sheep, a naturally communal animal, drifts away from the herd, it is not only vulnerable, it loses a sense of who it is. Sheep herders tell us that an isolated sheep might stop drinking and eating, threatening its very life. Unless the sheep is led back to the herd it risks injury and death. That is why Jesus suggests that the "good shepherd" leaves the ninety nine who are safe when together, to seek out the lost stray.
Belonging to a community is essential for our humanity. While there are times when we ought to be alone for prayer, reflection and rest, isolation is not good for us as humans and especially as Christians. Isolation eventually fills us with dread and foreboding and often makes us defensive and argumentative. Belonging, on the other hand, frees us from unnecessary anxiety and reminds us that even when we are struggling with a particular problem, we have an identity that gives meaning to our lives. We belong to Christ, the good shepherd, in whom is not only safety but salvation.
Today, stop and let Jesus, the Good Shepherd, find you.