Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

It’s shocking to see how multinational companies sometimes cut the work force, without any consideration for the individuals they are letting go. For them it’s all about profits rather than the welfare of the workers.

This is where Jesus’ stories of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin come in. What is at stake in both is the value of the individual. But one might say: why all the fuss over one wretched sheep or one miserable coin? To a good shepherd each sheep is important and precious. The coin the woman lost was a drachma, worth about 4 pence. That doesn’t sound much to us. But at that time it was the equivalent of a day’s wage. We can understand then why she searched so diligently for it. It meant a lot of her.

Once a group of concerned people got together to plan opening a reformatory for boys. They invited a well-known educator to advise them on how to go about it. He made a passionate plea for humane methods of education at the reformatory, urging the founders to spare no expense in getting the services of kind-hearted and competent teachers. He concluded by saying, “If the reformatory were to save even one boy from moral depravity, it will have justified all the cost and labor invested in it.”

Afterwards a member of the board approached him and said, “Didn’t you get a little bit carried away there? Would all the cost and labor be justified if we could save only one boy?”

“If it were my boy, yes,” came the reply.

If you were to ask the shepherd, “Was all the time and effort you spent in looking for that one sheep justified’? he would have given a similar answer: ‘Yes, when the sheep is your sheep.” There was nothing exceptional about the shepherd in Jesus’ story. Any shepherd worthy of the name would do the same.

Of course Jesus was not talking about sheep but about people, about sinners, to be more precise. The Pharisees were scandalized at seeing him spend so much time in the company of sinners. And he didn’t wait for sinners to repent before befriending them. He befriended them in their sinfulness, in their lostness. This is what scandalized the religious authorities: that he associated with sinners while they were still sinners.

Jesus’ defense was quite straightforward: he said he went where the need was greatest. The sheep that is lost, and is therefore endangered, has more need of the shepherd than the sheep that is within the fold. And the shepherd doesn’t wait for the lost sheep to come back; he goes looking for it. Sinners have more need of him than the virtuous, because they are lost.

In associating with sinners Jesus wasn’t condoning their situation. Rather, he was trying to show them a better way. But he could not do this without associating with them and being sympathetic towards them. You never improve people by shunning them. In acting the way he did, Jesus revealed the mercy of God towards sinners.

Just as a virtuous person is a witness to the grace of God, so a repentant sinner is a witness to the mercy of God.

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