Sheep on Shoulders

In today’s parable, Jesus holds up a gentle image of the love of God for each one of us. A love so great that it leaves the 99 who seem to be holding their own in order to go in search of a single one who went astray.

Why did the one stray from the flock? Was he confused, or belligerent, or determined to seek something outside of the pasture? Was he lured away, dragged away, coerced away? We don’t know, and it doesn’t seem to matter. The shepherd does not ask why the one strayed, so we need not either; it is enough to know that sheep stray. But we might ask, as a point of reflection, why the shepherd goes out to search for it!

In purely practical terms, one lost sheep is not a big deal. After all, 100 sheep is a lot, but 99 is almost as many. The economic value of the flock hasn’t been affected; a 1% loss is factored into these calculations, surely. And isn’t leaving the 99 a bit of a risk? They need shepherding too. They are at risk too. And yet he leaves them in pursuit.

Not only does the shepherd leave the 99 to go in search of the one who strayed, when he finds it he rejoices MORE than over the 99 who did not stray. Again, we might ask: Why?

The answer is always LOVE. The shepherd knows and loves each sheep personally. When one sheep strays, the shepherd knows it is in danger, it is suffering, it is in peril of eternal death. And love does not allow one who loves to remain complacent or use superficial cost-benefit calculations before deciding to act. Love acts. Love always has the good of the beloved in view, and not the personal cost. Love pours itself out for the good of the other. And the Shepherd pours Himself out for the good of each and every sheep.

When we stray, Jesus knows that we are in danger, we are suffering, we are in peril of eternal death. And so, no matter why we have strayed, he uses every means to reach out to us and bring us back. As Pope Francis said in a General Audience (5/4/16): “In Jesus’ vision there are no sheep that are definitively lost, but only sheep that must be found again. We need to understand this well: to God no one is definitively lost. Never! To the last moment, God is searching for us.” What a consolation and assurance for us! And when this Truth sinks into our being, we can assure others who have strayed that God is holding out His forgiveness.

“God never tires of forgiving us… Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love” (Evangelii Gaudium, 3).

We are borne on the Shepherd’s shoulders. That is the Good News.

Contact the author

Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Father Rob), and four grandchildren. She is President of the local community of Secular Discalced Carmelites and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 30 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio. Currently, she serves the Church by writing and speaking, and by collaborating with various parishes and to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is

Feature Image Credit: Fiore Bagatello,