And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with
great joy and ...calls together his friends and neighbors and says
to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.'
I once heard about a Jesuit priest who sat at the bedside of his dying father. He encouraged his father to sleep, to save his strength. But every time his father would close his eyes, he would open them again just as quickly. He stared intently at his son with eyes full of love and a smile on his face. It was as if he could not get enough of looking at his son. The weakening man needed sleep and rest, but he could not take his eyes off his son. All he wanted was to be present with his son for this time, savoring it in the deep love and joy he had for him.
That's the kind of love I think of with today's celebration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a God who can't take his eyes off of us. The readings center of God's great love for us, particularly through the image of a shepherd. In the first reading from Ezekiel, God tells the beloved people of Israel that "I, myself will look after and tend my sheep." We are sheep that belong to God, loved by God and looked after in a very personal way.
Jesus' love for us is so powerful and described vividly in today's gospel. A shepherd realizes one of his 100 sheep is missing. He leaves the other 99 and wanders through the hills until he finds the helpless animal. With great joy, he gently sets it on his shoulders and walks back to town, calling his friends to rejoice with him.
What a remarkable image that is! In our relationship with God, we wander away, our hearts filled with selfishness, anger, fear, jealousy or self-destructive habits. But Jesus follows us over the hills, searching us out. And when we simply turn and see him there, just accept Jesus into our small hearts, he rejoices and with the greatest of care, puts us on his shoulder and brings us back home where we belong.
Today is a day of rejoicing and of reveling in Jesus' generous and lavish care for us. We can imagine his heart burning with love, his warm, patient eyes that can't stop looking at us, and strong hands, ready to carry us lovingly home.
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