Scripture: Matthew 18:12-14
“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
“What do you think?”
What do I think? 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 often the marginalized — perhaps those on the fringes, 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 do I think?
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 judgement 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 that 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 roles to play in the 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.
“For my thoughts are not as your thoughts, nor are your ways as my ways, says the Lord” (Is. 55:8).