2nd Week of Advent (T)
Back in 2014, I went to the March for Life in DC. I was the chaperone for 36 Catholic high school students. Anytime we got back on the bus after an event, I counted my chickens. 36. Imagine if we returned to NOLA with only 35 students, and when confronted with the fact that one student was missing, I responded, “Hey! I got 35 of them back. What's one lost student out of 36?! 35 and 1 is a great record.” Well, you can just imagine the uproar. I'm using this analogy to explain Jesus' parable b/c it's likely we're thinking what the Pharisees and scribes were thinking: the 99 sheep are more important than one lost sheep. For the scribes and Pharisees, uncleanliness is infectious; cleanliness is not. IOW, the one lost sheep is lost b/c he is unclean, and it's better that he remain outside the flock. Rabbis like Jesus shouldn't be associating with the unclean. They will get dirty. Jesus is teaching his opponents that their beliefs about cleanliness and uncleanliness are exactly backwards. Sin is not infectious; grace is. Merely sitting in the presence of a prostitute doesn't make one a prostitute. However, when a person living in grace sits with a prostitute, the shepherd is finding his one lost sheep. The Enemy tempts us to think that associating with sinners is a sign of faithlessness, a sign that we are considering participating in their sin. This is a brilliant move on the Enemy's part b/c it keeps us away from those who most need to be found. We might get dirty. Well, finding and rescuing lost sheep is dirty work. It's hard work too b/c the Enemy also tempts us to rescue sinners by telling them that their sin isn't really a sin. We may think we're being loving here, but all we are really doing is enabling their sin and throwing ourselves into uncleanliness. Thus the shepherd needs to grasp two unshakable truths to do the his job in faith: 1). the lost sheep is priceless and worthy of rescue; and 2). the lost sheep is lost b/c he has chosen to get lost. If I can't or won't admit that I am lost and in trouble, then I cannot be found and rescued. If the shepherd is telling me that I'm not lost nor am I in trouble, then why is he bothering me about rejoining the flock? When we are shepherds, we love the sinner and admonish the sin. When we are lost, we confess that we are lost and desperately in need of rescue. And we always remember – whether we are the shepherd or the sinner – grace is infectious; sin is not.