Usually it is Christ who does the seeking.
Seeking Lost Sheep
He seeks out lost sheep. The ones caught in the brambles. The ones entirely separated from the flock.
I used to know a family who raised sheep, and their kids, in high school at the time, were part-time shepherds. They would sit out in the field, sometimes late into the night, watching their sheep. And while they never saw a vision of angels announcing good news to them, they did have some rather interesting insights into the profession of shepherding.
A sheep, they once told me, needs to be rescued when it gets lost, because when the sheep becomes frightened its joints lock up and it becomes literally petrified with fear. That’s why the good shepherd needs to pick the sheep up and place him on his shoulders, and carry him home. Because the lost sheep is petrified with fear.
The lost sheep becomes petrified.
- Petrified, sometimes, by emptiness and by a breathless attempt to grab for all the gusto he can get out of life, anesthetizing the fear with another drink, or another hundred shares, or a more prestigious title;
The lost sheep becomes petrified.
- Petrified by a frantic attempt to break free from the brambles of his own self-deception, when he can’t keep track of the lies anymore and lives in dread fear of being found out;
The lost sheep becomes petrified.
- Petrified by a loneliness so deep it screams into the darkness in the middle of the night, so petrified he will grab onto anyone or anything to make believe that lust is love and lies are truth;
There are a lot of sheep who stand petrified by their own sin out there, and even in here on this Friday we call good. Sheep who look desperately from side to side and all around and suddenly realize that they have wandered so far from the flock that no GPS could ever get them home, no God, they’re convinced, could ever forgive them! No sacrifice, they’re certain, could ever save them. No words, they’re determined, could ever do them any good.
Which is why it is usually Christ, "with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace..." who does the seeking.
Seeking Our Salvation
And the one thing he seeks most fervently, even more than he seeks the lost sheep, is the lost soul of the lost sheep. With a certain divine desperation, Christ seeks out the soul of the lost sinner, that he might repent and live.
The great print artist Fritz Eichenburg, who with Ade Bethune brought so much to the Catholic Worker movement in its earliest days, once crafted a brilliant print of a be-haloed figure rummaging through a trash bin by the side of the road. When Dorothy Day first saw it she was convinced of its meaning. Surely, this is Jesus, she declared enthusiastically, the hungry beggar among us, looking for something to eat amidst all the old fish-wrap we’ve thrown away.
No, Eichenburg told her. It is not Jesus in the poor man rummaging for food. No, we are the trash can in which Jesus is rummaging. He is rummaging through all the trash of our poor, sinful, selfish lives, looking for something worth while, something of value, something to save.
For there is nothing God desires more than our holiness, our capacity to reflect his love in our lives. It is why he made us in his own image and likeness and why he was incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Christ seeks our salvation with a real desperation. He seeks it preaching on the hills of Galilee. He seeks it falling on bloodied knees as he walks the the via dolorosa. He seeks it as he offers the perfect sacrifice on the altar of the cross.
So desperately does he desire to save us that he offers his very life in ransom for us. This just Abel does more than offer the fruit of his labor; he offers the blood in his veins. This modern day Melchizedek, offers more than bread and wine; He offers his body and blood. This God does not send an angel to spare his only-begotten Son, but gives him up to be offered for us on Calvary hill. This innocent lamb is the priest and the victim, the giver and the gift, offers the perfect sacrifice of love unto death, death on a cross.
Which leads us to the five first words of Christ in John’s account of his Blessed Passion.
It’s the middle of the night. And before an enormous crowd of temple police and soldiers, storming the Garden where he is at prayer, Jesus goes out to meet them armed with five words: “Who are you looking for?”
He says the same to us this Friday afternoon. Who are you looking for?
And each one of us can answer him.
- A young teenager might say, I’m looking for someone to inspire me. someone to make sense of my life…to lead me, advise me, and guide me to be happy and successful and content.
- The old man is looking for someone to take away the pain of his body and the loneliness of his soul. Someone who can remove the fear that gnaws at him every time he loses one more thing, every time he thinks of getting sicker and dying.
- Another one is looking for someone to take away the guilt which he’s carried on his back like a bag of bricks for so many years. It was stupid and wrong and sinful, and he’s never been able to forgive himself…he needs someone to lift those sins off his shoulders.
- And then there’s the young mother who is looking for someone to watch over her kids or maybe lighten her load, as she works three jobs, one for each kid. She’s looking for someone who will help her to sleep all night without waking up worrying about the next day’s burdens.
- And then there’s that guy who is looking for someone to answer all those questions he has about life…and to show him how to solve the problems of the world…to feed the poor, and heal the sick, and end the violence which he knows makes no sense.
- There’s the accomplished businessman, who has all the money he needs, but feels strangely empty inside,
- And there’s the alcoholic, at the bar down the street who’s fallen into his bottle for the umpteenth time,
- And the middle aged woman whose breast cancer is back and needs a miracle
- And the guy who’s been dumped again and feels desperate and alone, and needs someone to love him…
- And each one of us….
Look deep in your heart, my fiends, and hear Jesus’ voice asking you today: Who are you looking for?
Whomever you seek…whatever the pain of your heart that cries out to heaven…the one who has been seeking you down every alley and detour hangs from the cross for you today.
- He hangs there dying, to teach us how to live.
- He hangs there rejected, to teach us how to love.
- The nails, filed sharp by our sins, piece the wrists of his body. But we are forgiven by him, for we know not what we do.
- The crown of thorns, pierces his flesh, but the blood that drips down cleanses all it touches from darkness and sin.
- From his side, pierced by the lance of our selfishness, blood and water flow out, not as a harbinger of death, but as the beginning of newness of life. For those who are baptized in that water will never die. And those who drink of that blood will live forever.
- By his blessed passion upon that cross, by his suffering, we are healed of every brokenness, freed of every sin, and the bonds of death are, once and for all, broken.
Who are you looking for? You are looking for the Shepherd who has been looking for you, the Christ, the Son of the Living God: Who by his holy cross, has redeemed the world.
Monignor James P. Moroney
Saint John’s Seminary