He rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. 

If you were to make a list of the areas in your life that you needed to work on, how long would it be? Would it dwarf a list of the areas you are doing well in? Most of us would answer yes, even if it weren’t true. And that could make us think that we can never be good enough for God or worthy of his love. But is that how God looks at us?

No! God looks at us with great love and tenderness even when we sin and wander away from him. And when he finds us, he doesn’t condemn us; he rejoices over us! That’s the beautiful image of the Good Shepherd that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel.

Imagine that you are the stray sheep. You have wandered from the shepherd and now you’re trying to take cover from a storm or hiding from predators. Can you see the shepherd’s face as he finds you? You don’t see any anger in his eyes or hear any harsh rebukes coming from his mouth. Instead, his gentleness melts away the fear and shame you felt in your wanderings. Then he embraces you and carries you back to his flock.

St. Paul once wrote, “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The truth is, none of us are among the ninety-nine that did not stray. We all have times when we wander away from the Lord. We all have areas of temptation that we struggle with, and we all have times when we give in to those temptations. So we shouldn’t be surprised by our weaknesses and failures.

At the same time, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that our God is a Good Shepherd who rejoices when he rescues us. And we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that he continues to search for us every time we go our own way. He never tires of lavishing us—or anyone else—with his love and his mercy.

It can be exhausting tallying our spiritual shortcomings or trying to be good enough to earn God’s love. Next time you feel disheartened by your weaknesses, recall his goodness, turn to him, and allow him, your Good Shepherd, to carry you home in his arms.

“Jesus, thank you for loving me and rejoicing over me even in my weakness.”

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13
Matthew 18:12-14


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