Seems to me that we must exert our imaginations about one aspect of the parable of the Lost Sheep in order to grasp the parable’s full significance.
The aspect I have in mind is the extreme contrast between the state in which the 99 sheep find themselves and the state of the one little lost sheep.
To a statistician or an economist, the parable might not make any sense at all. “Wait a minute. 99 on one side. One on the other. Take the 99 to the bank and be done with it.”
But economists, statisticians, and sociologists do not know everything about the art of shepherding. The crucial difference between the 99 and the one is that the 99 will be safe, at day’s end, in a sheepfold, protected from wolves and robbers.
But the one which lagged behind at some point during the day faces the gravest danger, as the sun sets. The little creature will certainly not survive the night, out all by itself on a hillside. It is defenseless and very tasty-looking.
The wealth of the shepherd lies in the sheep. The sheep are the shepherd’s bank account. 99% of his wealth is safe. 1% will certainly be lost–if he doesn’t head back out into the wilderness, by the light of the setting sun, to find the poor, lost, confused, little bleating creature.
The chances of him finding it are not all that great. So if he does, he experiences some pretty serious happiness.
As sheep, of course, we see instantly that we want to be safe among the 99. The 99 pray daily for the Pope. The 99 go to Mass every weekend, practically on auto-pilot. The 99 love Jesus and His Church more than money, more than sex, more than life itself. After all, we have immortal souls to keep safe. An American Express Card can’t do us any good after we’re dead.
But the Lord loves the one. He loves the 99, no doubt; He wants the 99 as safe as they can be. He doesn’t love the 99 any less than He loves the one. But He loves that little one. He goes out into the cold and dangerous evening twilight, like Han Solo went out after Luke on the ice-planet Hoth, at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back.
The Lord wants 100 safe sheep. Not 99. A 99% Safety Rating is not enough for God. It has to be 100. The Lord will sooner die than be satisfied with a 99% Safety Rating for His sheep.