Finding something we have lost gives us a fresh joy, and we are happier at having found the lost object than we should have been had we never lost it. This parable, however, is concerned more with divine tenderness and compassion than with human behavior, and it expresses a great truth.
Humans are too greedy to forsake things of value for love of anything inferior. That is something only God can do. For God not only brought what was not into being, but he also went after what was lost while still protecting what he left behind, and found what was lost without losing what he had in safe keeping.
This story, then, speaks of no earthly shepherd but of a heavenly one, and far from being a portrayal of human activity, this whole parable conceals divine mysteries, as becomes clear from the number mentioned when Christ says: “Which of you, if you have a hundred sheep and lost one of them … ”
Christ sought us on earth; let us seek him in heaven. You see how the loss of a single sheep made the shepherd grieve as though the whole flock were no longer in safe keeping but had gone astray, and how this made him leave the ninety-nine to go after the lost one and search for it, so that its recovery might make the flock complete again.
But let us now unfold the hidden meaning of this heavenly parable.
The man who owns the hundred sheep is Christ. He is the good shepherd, the loving shepherd, who in a single sheep, that is in Adam, fashioned the whole flock of humankind. He set this sheep in a place of rich pasturage amidst the pleasures of paradise, but heedless of the shepherd’s voice it trusted in the howling of wolves, lost the protection of the sheepfold, and was pierced through by deadly wounds.
Christ therefore came into the world to look for it, and he found it in the Virgin’s womb. He came in the body assumed at his human birth, and raising that body on the cross, he placed the lost sheep on his own shoulders by his passion. Then in the intense joy of the resurrection he brought it to its heavenly home. “And he called his friends and neighbors,” that is the angels, and said to them: “Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that was lost.”
The angels joined Christ in gladness and rejoicing at the return of the Lord’s sheep. They did not take it amiss that he now reigned over them upon the throne of majesty, for the sin of envy had long since been banished from heaven together with the devil, and it could not gain entry there again through the Lamb who took away the sin of the world!
Brothers and sisters, Christ sought us on earth; let us seek him in heaven. He has borne us up to the glory of his divinity; let us bear him in our bodies by holiness. As the apostle says: Glorify and bear God in your bodies. That person bears God in his body whose bodily activities are free from sin.
St Peter Chrysologus