What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. (Matthew 18:12-14)

This famous parable of the lost sheep is the Gospel reading today. Over this past summer, Fr. Pedrano, OSB reflected on this parable saying:

“The one lost sheep might already be dead, but a stupid shepherd leaves the ninety-nine exposed to danger. He does not wait for the lost one to repent and come back on its own feet. He goes to whatever dangerous place the one lost sheep is in. He picks it up and carries its burdened soul instead of telling it off.”

Stupid shepherd. That phrase stuck with me. We’ve heard this reading so often that we forget how ridiculous it is for a shepherd to leave nearly all of his flock, to leave them vulnerable, in order to go after the one sheep the wandered away. Jesus is describing our Heavenly Father as a stupid shepherd. Then, throughout his public ministry, Christ embodied that kind of reckless shepherding. Jesus avoided places of honor among the religious ninety-nine of his day and he actively sought out the people they had shunned from the community. One event in particular sums up how Jesus treated the ninety-nine righteous vs. the wayward sinners:

“While he was at table in [Matthew’s] house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ He heard this and said, ‘Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13).

And the response from the ninety-nine? They plotted to kill the shepherd. The foolish mercy of God could not be tolerated. And this same foolishness is alive and well in our shepherd, Pope Francis. The word “pastor” means “shepherd,” and if Francis is anything he’s a pastor. Bishop Barron, in his address this past summer at the World Meeting of Families described the pope’s mission saying, “he prefers the path of mercy and reinstatement to the path of exclusion.” Catholic writer, Mark Shea, speaks of Francis this way:

“I believe he is a man whose papacy is simple to summarize: ‘He has preached good news to the poor.’ He has repeatedly shown that his love is for the least of these and his passion is for evangelization. And he has thereby earned the enmity of exactly the kind of people the gospel should offend.”

Like Christ, Pope Francis appears to be concerned, first and foremost, with those on the periphery, with those who are weak. His social commentary shares the abrasiveness of John the Baptist and the Church Fathers out of concern for the the poor, the refugee, the migrant, and the imprisoned. And his emphasis on accompaniment and subjective culpability shows his concern for those those who can’t keep the commandments or live up to the neo-Pelagian doctrines so often presented as orthodoxy.

The attitude of the ninety-nine is the attitude of the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Someone who may say that they have a Loving Father but who doesn’t really believe that. Someone who thinks they need to earn their Father’s love through a legalistic adherence to the rules and thus becomes bitter when those who have broken the rules are welcomed back with open arms. Someone who refuses to rejoice, as their Father does, when their selfish and sinful brother returns. In his book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” our Holy Father says:

“We must avoid the attitude of someone who judges and condemns from the lofty heights of his own certainty, looking for the splinter in his brother’s eye while remaining unaware of the beam is his own. Let us always remember that God rejoices more when one sinner returns to the fold than when ninety-nine righteous people have no need of repentance. When a person begins to recognize the sickness in their soul, when the Holy spirit—the Grace of God—acts within them and moves their heart toward an initial recognition of their own sins, he needs to find an open door, not a closed one. He needs to find acceptance, not judgement, prejudice, or condemnation. He needs to be helped, not pushed away or cast out. Sometimes when Christians think like scholars of the law, their hearts extinguish that which the Holy Spirit lights up in the heart of a sinner who stands at the threshold, when he starts to feel nostalgia for God.”

Each of us in the ninety-nine is faced with a choice. We can join the chorus of sheep constantly complaining about how the shepherd has abandoned them or doesn’t know what he’s doing. Or we can join the shepherd, leave the safety of our own echo chambers and comfort zones and go find the lost sheep in our communities.

[Photo Credit: Rory Hennessey on Unsplash]

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Paul Fahey is a husband, father of four, parish director of religious education, and co-founder of Where Peter Is.  He can be found at his website, Rejoice and be Glad: Catholicism in the Pope Francis Generation

The Stupid Shepherd

7 Responses

  1. pat says:

    What a terrible, low opinion the pope must have of the rest of the church!
    “closed doors”, bitter when the sinner returns… etc. I don’t know what church he or you have in mind, but I have never seen that. Quite the opposite, and long before Francis became pope.

    On the other hand, the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 to search for the one. He does not burn the pasture behind himself. Is it really necessary to scandalize the rest of the flock? Is it necessary to cause doubt in marriage, or gays, or mortal sin, sanctifying grace, etc in order to pursue the one? Has it been fruitful? Do the 99 matter, or are they not worth it since they’re not on the peripheries?

    • Paul Fahey says:

      God’s ways are not our ways. You can stay in the chorus of those complaining about how the shepherd doesn’t know what he’s doing or you can follow the shepherd God has given you.

      • carn says:

        “You can stay in the chorus of those complaining about how the shepherd doesn’t know what he’s doing or you can follow the shepherd God has given you.”

        Papal infallibility does not mean, that following the Pope is always the right thing to do. It just means that assenting to what the Pope teaches regarding faith and morals is always (in case of truly infallible statements) and/or nearly always (in case of other statements with Papal authority) the right thing to do.

        Of course, following those who claim that currently the Pope is leading in the wrong direction can also be wrong, even if their claim would be correct.

      • Paul Fahey says:

        Nobody is talking about papal infallibility, we’re talking about the ordinary teaching authority of the pope. From Lumen Gentium 25:

        “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.”

      • QED says:

        Papal infallibility is the promise that the pope will never become a heretic, not the promise that if he’s a heretic he’s no longer the pope. Papal primacy gives him immediate authority over the whole Church’ even in disciplinary matters. Why give primacy to anyone to anyone who can err in such a way that obeying him will incur eternal damnation?

  2. L. Daily says:

    In contrast, read the story of Father Don Lacuestra of the Diocese of Detroit (and a Frank Pavone groupie), who in a funeral homily told the parents who lost their son to suicide that “the youth might be blocked from heaven because of how he died.”


    Who forms these weirdos with no human compassion? Who inflicts them on the Church as Christ’s representatives? Pope Francis is right to call them “little monsters.”

  1. December 11, 2018

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