Augustine, in his sermon 46 to Pastors, reflects upon the mandate from the Lord, found in Ezekiel, for shepherds to seek out the lost sheep, even if those sheep seem to want to be lost.
The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. In one way or another, we go on living between the hands of robbers and the teeth of raging wolves, and in light of these present dangers we ask your prayers.
Lost, Straying Sheep who have wandered
The sheep moreover are insolent. The shepherd seeks out the straying sheep, but because they have wandered away and are lost they say that they are not ours. “ Why do you want us? Why do you seek us?” they ask, as if their straying and being lost were not the very reason for our wanting them and seeking them out. “If I am straying”, he says, “if I am lost, why do you want me?” You are straying, that is why I wish to recall you. You have been lost, I wish to find you. “But I wish to stray”, he says: “I wish to be lost”.
So you wish to stray and be lost? How much better that I do not also wish this. Certainly, I dare say, I am unwelcome. But I listen to the Apostle who says: Preach the word; insist upon it, welcome and unwelcome.
Welcome to whom? Unwelcome to whom? By all means welcome to those who desire it; unwelcome to those who do not. However unwelcome, I dare to say: “You wish to stray, you wish to be lost; but I do not want this”. For the one whom I fear does not wish this. And should I wish it, consider his words of reproach: The straying sheep you have not recalled; the lost sheep you have not sought. Shall I fear you rather than him? Remember, we must all present ourselves before the judgement seat of Christ.
I shall recall the straying; I shall seek the lost. Whether they wish it or not, I shall do it. And should the brambles of the forests tear at me when I seek them, I shall force myself through all straits; I shall put down all hedges. So far as the God whom I fear grants me the strength, I shall search everywhere. I shall recall the straying; I shall seek after those on the verge of being lost.
If you do not want me to suffer, do not stray, do not become lost. It is enough that I lament your straying and loss. No, I fear that in neglecting you, I shall also kill what is strong. Consider the passage that follows: And what was strong you have destroyed. Should I neglect the straying and lost, the strong one will also take delight in straying and in being lost.
For more from Augustine’s sermon 46 to Pastors, read his thoughts on how CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP ENTAILS RIGOROUS ACCOUNTABILITY.
This post is an excerpt from a sermon by St. Augustine of Hippo on Pastors (Sermo 46, 14-15: CCL 41, 541-542). It appears in the Roman Office of Readings on Monday of the 25th week in Ordinary Time. The accompanying biblical reading is from Ezekiel 34: 1-31.
Banner/featured image by Niloufar Sharifi on Scopio. Used with permission.