“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” (Mt 18:12)?
Many of those Jesus asked and us reading or hearing this Gospel today might share our opinion that the man leaving the ninety-nine to find the one would not be a wise choice. Jesus again appears to be turning the normal order of things upside down in painting a word picture of God’s folly. This parable clearly shows the abundant and extravagant love of his Father for each and every one of us. The act of this shepherd can appear not only unreasonable but unbelievable.
Yet, this is not the feeling to the one who is lost. This extravagant love is a relief. It is the love that we can only experience if we are willing to resist slipping into judgment and pride, as did the elder son who was not willing to forgive his brother who was lost but found. The father loved him with the same love, but he closed himself off from it.
What God wants is for us to be happy, to be fulfilled, to be fully alive, and he is willing to risk us going astray such that we can come to realize the emptiness in any pursuit that ultimately does not bring us closer to him. God does not wish for any one of us to be lost. He constantly coaxes, invites, and urges us to fulfill who he created us to be. He guides us along as a parent urging his child to walk. Yet, though he lovingly implores us along, we can be distracted, turn, crawl away, and go in a different direction.
Have we taken our eyes off of our Father? Have we crawled away from his invitation? No matter how far we believe we are from him, he has always been close, following, watching, ready for us to turn back to him. When we do turn back, he is there waiting for us, urging us to rise and walk into his open embrace.
May we remember this Advent that God is eternally present, for he loves us more than we can ever mess up, he loves us more than we can ever imagine, and he refuses to define us by our worst choices and moments. He has sent his Son to extend his hand out to us. Let us take his hand and let him lead us back into the loving embrace of our Father.