Dec. 6, 2016: Tuesday, 2nd Week of Advent A
Jesus said to his disciples:
“What is your opinion?
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray,
will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills
and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it
than over the ninety-nine that did not stray.
In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father
that one of these little ones be lost.” (Matt 18:12-14)
What is my opinion? Would I risk the safety of ninety-nine sheep to go looking for one? Would I spend precious time and resources doing that?
In the context of Matthew 18, it is clear that this passage refers to the Christian community. Jesus makes a distinction between those who stray and those who cause harm to others or who give scandal (see Mt 18:5-10).
Those who stray are the misfits, the marginalized--perhaps the mentally ill, the prostitute, the drug addict or alcoholic, the immigrant--whoever for some reason is not able to be in complete communion with the community of believers. Jesus would seek these people out to try to bring them back.
He would spend precious time and resources trying to rehabilitate them. He would risk the safety of those who have not strayed. The question he asks, though is: Would we? Would I? What is my opinion?
There are many reasons why a person may choose to no longer follow Jesus in the community of believers. The first reaction of others may sometimes be judgment and harsh criticism of the one straying. Some, particularly family members, suffer because of the separation. But the vulnerability that one experiences because of being isolated makes it possible for that person to accept divine love in a way that was not previously possible. If we look at it this way, we may be more inclined to be hopeful for the person, rather than judgmental or sad. It may be someone else right now; it may be me tomorrow.
If it is imperative for the shepherd to search out and to try to persuade the person to return, it is just as imperative for that person to find a welcoming community on his or her return. I wonder whether the prospect of such a welcome would hasten the stray's return. Thus, both shepherd and community have equally essential role to play in this search and rescue process.
Jesus, help me to recognize those who have strayed and those parts of me which may not allow me to follow you within the community of believers. Change judgment to mercy and hope. Make my heart like your heart so others may be touched by you through me. And instead of dwelling on the condition of those outside the community, may I always wait for the day of rejoicing.
Advent Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections by the Daughters of St. Paul