In our Gospel reading today Luke 15: 3-7, Jesus shares the parable of the lost sheep with us. Today we also celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I would like to take this chance to spend some time to explore today’s Gospel message with meaning of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus spoke to us today about a lost sheep. There is an additional parable that Jesus taught that I apply to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That is the parable about the wedding necklace (Luke 15: 8-10). In both parables we are able to see the Sacred Heart of Jesus each time. Those of us who are parents, or are in constant interaction with children, are able to easily understand the joy the heart feels and expresses when a child who is thought to have been lost is found. The heart’s expression is even more intense when a soul or child is truly lost and then found again.
The story about the lost sheep would touch the hearts of the men and boys in the crowd, and the women and girls would appreciate the story about the necklace that was lost. Jesus sought to reach everybody’s heart.
The sheep was lost because of its foolishness. Sheep have a tendency to go astray, and that is why they need a shepherd. The scribes and Pharisees had no problem seeing the publicans and sinners as ‘lost sheep,’ but they would not apply that image to themselves! And yet the prophet made it clear that all of us have sinned and gone astray, and that includes religious people.
The shepherd was responsible for each sheep; if one was missing, the shepherd had to pay for it unless he could prove that it had been killed by a predator. This certainly explains why he would leave the flock with the other shepherds, go and search for the missing animal, and then rejoice when he found it. Not to find the lost sheep meant money out of his own pocket, plus the disgrace of being known as a careless shepherd.
By leaving the ninety-nine sheep, the shepherd was not saying they were unimportant to him. They were safe, but the lost sheep was in danger. The fact that the shepherd would go after one sheep is proof that each animal was dear to him.
There is a fourfold joy expressed when a lost sinner comes to the Savior. Though nothing is said in the story about how the sheep felt, there is certainly joy in the heart of the person found. Both Scripture (Acts 3:8; 8:39) and our own experience verify the love of salvation.
But there is also the joy of the person who does the finding. Whenever you assist in leading a lost soul to faith in Christ, you experience a wonderful joy within. Others join with us in rejoicing as we share the good news of a new child of God in the family, and there is also joy in heaven (Luke 15:7; 10). The angels know better than we do what are saved from and to, and they rejoice with us.
Jesus illustrates this joy of finding the lost in another way. When a Jewish girl married, she began to wear a headband of ten silver coins to signify that she was now a wife. It was the Jewish version of our modern wedding ring, and it would be considered a calamity for her to lose one of those coins. Palestinian houses were dark, so she had to light a lamp and search until she found the lost coin, and we can imagine her joy in finding it.
We must not press parabolic images too far, but it is worth noting that the coin would have on it the image of the ruler. The lost sinner bears the image of God, even though that image has been marred by sin. When a lost sinner is ‘found’ God begins to restore that divine image through the power of the Holy Spirit, and one day, the believer will be like Jesus Christ.
These two parables help us understand something of what it means to be lost. To begin with, it means being out of place. Sheep belong with the flock, coins belong on the chain, and lost sinners belong in fellowship with God. But to be lost also means being out of service. A lost sheep is of no value to the owner, and a lost sinner cannot experience the enriching fulfillment God has for them in Jesus Christ.
But to turn this around, to be ‘found’ (saved) means that you are back in place (reconciled with God), back in service (life has a purpose), and out of danger. No wonder the shepherd and the woman rejoiced and invited their friends to rejoice with them!
It is easy for us today to read these two parables and take their message for granted, but the people who first heard them must really have been shocked. Jesus was saying that God actually searches for sinners! No wonder the scribes and Pharisees were offended, for there was no place in their legalistic theology for a God like that. They had forgotten that God had sought out Adam and Eve when they had sinned and hidden from God. In spite of their supposed knowledge of Scripture, the scribes and Pharisees forgot that God was like a father who pitied his wayward children.
These are few joys that match the joy of finding love and bringing them to the Savior.
Why do these scriptures mean so much to us on the Feast of the Sacred Heart? The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the relevance of this venerable symbol in our daily lives. The image of the Sacred Heart is never mentioned as such in Sacred Scripture, but its meaning can be found spanning each page of Genesis to Revelation.
Today’s readings point to this fact and frame the Sacred Heart in terms of two central themes: love and closeness. They speak of the love of God as a shepherdly love, an involved loved, a powerful love; a love that is up-close and personal, that seeks out the lost, heals the afflicted, strengthens the contrite, upholds the humble, and calls mend and woman of every time and place to all they can be, to love in return, to have life in abundance: to be holy. We see here that the image of the Sacred Heart is intimately linked with the image of the Good Shepherd.