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A lost person is God’s defeat

Two parables of mercy will be offered to us in this Sunday’s gospel, that of the lost sheep and the lost coin.

The parables are addressed to the Scribes and Pharisees rather than the tax collectors and sinners who were seeking Jesus eagerly to hear what he had to say.

They frowned at this, muttering, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

It was prohibited to accept a dinner invitation from publicans and sinners. But Jesus did worse: The Pharisees and the Scribes accused him of organising a feast for them. 

At some point, they require an explanation. The two parables are Jesus’ answer, his self-defence.

He does not tell them to convince the sinners, but to help the righteous to review their ideas. 

Sinners are the lost coin and sheep, however—this is a strange thing—now they are all around Jesus. 

But the righteous are out of the circle and are likely to stay there if they do not change their way of thinking, if they cannot understand the newness that God is revealing.

The lost sheep. In the parable, the behaviour of the shepherd is unrealistic: he forgets the 99 sheep in the desert, running from house to house, calling friends and neighbours, and hosts a feast because he got back a lost sheep, a rather trivial incident. 

The rabbis taught that the Lord is pleased with the resurrection of the righteous and rejoice in the destruction of the wicked. 

Jesus reverses this official catechesis and announces the true feelings of God. He says he is pleased not with the destruction, but with the resurrection of the wicked. “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner, than over the 99 decent people, who do not need conversion.” 

The doctrine of just retribution is a cornerstone of rabbinic theology. Jesus openly contradicts it showing that the tenderness and the kindness of God are not addressed to those who deserve them, but to those who need them.

 The righteous, in addition to putting their lives in order (because none is just but God alone), must correct especially their theological images of God. 

The God they have in mind is a dangerous image, because it prevents participation in the feast.

The 99 sheep remain in the desert and only the stray gets home, because it allows itself to be carried by the shepherd.

The faulty image of the god of the righteous is especially dangerous, because it is at the origin of fanaticism, intolerance, rigorism and alienation from God. 

To help the sinner let himself be found, it is a must to tell him—as Jesus does—the truth about God, that he is not a judge to be afraid of, but a friend who loves always.

The lost coin. Compared with the parable of the sheep, there is a new element: the lively description of the woman’s concern, her effort, patience and perseverance in the search for the coin: “lights a lamp and sweeps the house in a thorough search.” 

It is the image of a god who is not resigned to losing one of his creatures (the number 10 is a symbol of the whole community), and does not sit at the eternal dinner banquet until the last of his children has entered his house.


• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications