Jesus' closeness to sinners isn’t a scandal
– it's an example, Pope says
by Elise Harris
Vatican City, May 4, 2016 / 04:37 am (CNA/EWTN News) - On Wednesday Pope Francis said the parable of the Good Shepherd is a key example of God’s mercy, because it represents the depth of the Lord's concern in ensuring that no one is lost.
The parable “represents Jesus’ solicitude toward sinners and the mercy of God which is not resigned to losing anyone,” the Pope said May 4.
Jesus tells the parable in order to make the people understand that his closeness to sinners “shouldn’t scandalize, but on the contrary provoke in all a serious reflection on how we live our faith,” he said.
Francis stressed that God’s mercy toward sinners is the personal style with which he acts, and “he is absolutely faithful to that mercy: nothing and no one can dissuade him from his will for salvation.”
The shepherd, he said, can always be found “where the lost sheep is…the Lord is therefore to be sought there, where he wants to meet us, not where we pretend to find him!”
Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience. He focused his speech for the event on the parable of the Good Shepherd, in which the shepherd leaves the 99 in his flock and goes out in search of the one who is lost.
The Pope noted that there are two perspectives in the parable, the first being that of the sinners who draw near to Jesus and listen to him, while the second is that of “the suspicious doctors of the law and scribes” who distance themselves from the Lord and his behavior.
As the story unfolds, it does so around three main characters, he said, naming them as “the shepherd, the lost sheep and the rest of the flock.”
The only one who to act, however, “is the shepherd, not the sheep,” the Pope said, noting that the shepherd “is the only true protagonist and everything depends on him.”
However, Francis observed that “a paradox” in the parable that could cause one to doubt the shepherd’s actions is found with the question “is it wise to abandon the 99 for only one sheep? And most importantly not in the safety of the sheepfold, but in the desert?”
In the bible the desert is typically a place symbolic of death in which food, water and shelter are hard to find, he said, asking “what can the 99 do to defend themselves?”
The paradox continues, Pope Francis said, when, after having found the sheep, the shepherd “carries it on his shoulders, goes home, calls his friends and neighbors and says to them: ‘rejoice with me.’”
Straining oneself to reach just one sheep might seem like the shepherd has forgotten the other 99, he said, but noted that “in reality it’s not like this.”
What Jesus wants to teach through the parable is that that “no sheep can be lost. The Lord cannot accept the fact that even one single person can be lost,” the Pope said, adding that this is “a burning desire.”
“Neither can the 99 sheep stop the shepherd and keep him closed in the flock,” he said, and spoke about the importance of “going outside of ourselves.”
While looking for the lost sheep, the shepherd “provokes the 99 so that they participate in the reunification of the flock,” Francis said, adding that there is no way to reassemble the flock other than following the path outlined by the mercy of the shepherd.
He encouraged pilgrims to think about the parable often, since in the Christian community there is always someone “missing who left, leaving an empty space.”
Although this reality can at times be discouraging and lead us to believe that the departure of a brother or sister from the community is an inevitable, “incurable disease,” the Pope said this is not the case.
Francis cautioned against running from this danger and “locking ourselves inside of the flock, where there is not the smell of the sheep, but the stench of the closed!”
When this happens, he said, it is because we have lost “the missionary impulse” that leads us to encounter others.
Pope Francis closed his audience by emphasizing that “no distance can keep the shepherd away, and no flock can renounce a brother.”
To find one that is lost, he said, “is the joy of the shepherd and of God, but also the joy of the entire flock! We are all sheep who have been found and gathered by the mercy of the Lord, and together with him are called to gather the entire flock!”