Beyond Sinner vs Righteous
An invitation to “accompany”
Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15, 4–7)
Some of the striking features are…
- One of the 100 is lost. Economically it’s a loss, though not too big.
- The shepherd leaves 99 in the wilderness, which has the danger. Despite all attempts to justify, this business model is a faulty one. Or we might say, shepherding is too different from a business model.
- When the lost one is found, it’s laid on the shoulders and brought in a royal manner.
- There is a party to celebrate that joy.
But then there is a powerful line…. “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
Does the Church as an institution, who definitely has the task of shepherding the flock fail (occasionally, many a times) in its responsibility? When we label someone who wishes to leave the church (due to any reason) as a sinner — do we also fall into that duality which Jesus criticizes — sinner vs righteous who doesn’t need repentance ? Or in some sense, does any member leaving the church tell us (and more importantly to those holding responsibilities) that conversion is needed not only for the one who is leaving, but equally for all the ones who are staying and for the institution? May be that helps the one who is leaving, to find his or her place back in the community.
Why the sheep might have been lost? I could think of a few reasons…
- It may have found something interesting to eat, which was on a slightly problematic terrain.
- It may not have heard the voice of the shepherd (or shepherd’s voice is no longer audible to certain sheeps due to cultural, social or other difficulties).
- Or the hypocrisy of the shepherd/sheep hinder the sheep from listening to the voice of the shepherd.
- Shepherd or other sheeps may be abusive; and sheep is no longer interested to return.
- It may not want to stay in that flock. (personal choice)
There is definitely an aspect of the personal liberty (or freedom to make choice) of the sheep or the person. Can shepherds have a dialogue respecting the liberty of the person? Surely such a dialogue can’t be about labelling that sheep as misruly or sinner.
Each person is uniquely created by God, with her or his personal liberty. The shepherd (shepherding is done by a community of all those who are involved in responsible positions, though their role differs), in some sense, should be able to accompany all the different people, in their journeys, without labels and condemnation. This accompaniment is a constant journey of conversion (from sinner to less-sinner and not to the righteous who needs no repentance).
Such a shepherd, I think, may be less and less interested to find faults in the exterior world (films, culture, philosophy, tradition etc) as a reason for someone leaving the group, and more interested on the urgent need of the conversion of the existing community and equally urgent need of accompanying the people, especially in their difficulties, questions, differences etc.
The point is not to find faults at the moment of difficulty of a person, but to find a means of accompanying a member of the community, especially the one in difficulty. This helps the community to grow, which is equally a growth for its members.