Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1)
“The Tax Collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes were complaining…” The Pharisees and scribes thought they deserved the attention of Jesus, not the sinners whom they detested. So Jesus tells them the story of the Lost Sheep. They thought the parable was about the Tax Collectors and sinners, but in fact, they were the ones who were lost.
The Tax Collectors and sinners were not a holy lot, but neither were they lost, for they were drawing near to Jesus to listen to him. They encountered the love of Jesus and were on the way to New Life. Conversely, the Pharisees and Tax Collectors were driven away, deprived of God’s tender care. Driven by fear of the Punishing Judge, they were exiled from love. In detesting sinners, they embraced Sin. Hopelessly lost, they were unable to recognize their self-righteousness.
Blinded by condemnation, they were indignant that Jesus would welcome the company of sinners. Their hardened hearts hid them from the Mercy of their God. For this reason, Jesus paints for them the parable of the Good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep. How else could his Mercy penetrate their hearts? They must first come to believe that their Punishing Judge is in truth, a Kind and Merciful God.
So it is, that the Good Shepherd is compelled to search for his wayward sheep, and when he finds it, he does not put a rope around its neck and drag it back to the fold. Rather, he picks it up and carries it around his neck. Now, sheep are not these cute and cuddly creatures we see on TV. They are dumb. They stink. And they are nasty dirty, as manure and dirt are forever matted into their wool. Yet, Jesus presents the Good Shepherd as oblivious to the filth, as he joyfully returns, carrying the sheep on his shoulders.
St. Luke leaves us hanging as to how the Pharisees and scribes responded to Jesus’ parable. Did a light go on? Did they receive God’s Mercy? Or was it too late? Were they so hardened, that defending their pride took precedence over defending their souls?
All the characters in this Gospel passage were in need of redemption. But it was those, most successful in their religious appearance, that were in the darkest and most dangerous plight. The Tax Collectors and sinners knew their lives were unholy. They merely needed to repent and be saved. The Pharisees and scribes either knew they were unrighteous and pretended to be holy, or they were deceived by their religiosity, and actually believed it to be so. In the end, they found themselves spurning the Mercy of God.
Lord, where do I play in this parable? I do relate to the Pharisee who prayed, “I thank you God that I am not like this sinner.” I still feel disdain toward those who fail to meet my criteria for decency. Your Blood has covered me in righteousness, yet I cling to a self-righteousness that is unbecoming of a child in your fold. Selfishness and Pride are still familiar Voices. The wool you have washed white in your blood is so easily soiled. In my stupidity, I wander from your protective presence. I tell myself half-truths so I can do things you would have me not do. And I am sad to admit Lord, there are parts of my heart, from which mercy does not yet flow, where doors are yet tight closed to your Light.
Father, I am in desperate need of your Good Shepherd. Fill me anew today with the in pouring of your Holy Spirit promised. Holy Spirit, do with me what I cannot do. Purify my mind, heart and soul. Open my heart to the Truth of your way. Jesus, may your Death reign in me, that I may live for you, that I may never wander from your Love.