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The Disgruntled Ninety-Nine
Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, Bishop
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Opening Prayer: Lord God, I love you very much. I want to spend this time with you, to hear what you have to tell me. I need your Gospel, and I need your message of mercy. Grant me your grace and hear my prayer.
- Starting to Complain: The Pharisees and scribes began to complain about Jesus’ behavior: “He focuses way too much on sinners!” They felt that his emphasis on mercy was exaggerated. They thought that religion was about being good and pure; so why all the focus on the moral outcasts? God will always have a special love for sinners and those who suffer. And he’s always going to ask us to be his instruments of mercy for those people. That can be a difficult reality. Sometimes we can sometimes feel like being faithful to God’s will is too costly. When we recognize this sentiment in our hearts, face it honestly, and bring it to God he will bless and enlighten, restore and redeem us.
- Left in the Desert: Jesus left ninety-nine good sheep to go searching for one miserable wanderer. In my contemplation, Jesus seems to ask me, “Wouldn’t you go after the one sheep?” Well, I wouldn’t. I don’t think I would leave my friends alone and vulnerable to try to rescue an enemy. Rereading this passage, we learn that God searched for the lost sheep to show us how much he loves every single one of us individually. He also shows us how much we are supposed to love each other: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” God is challenging us to stay close to the Shepherd so that we grow in mercy.
- Called to Rejoice: God called upon the ninety-nine to rejoice. We are to rejoice and make merry over every repentant brother, every time someone accepts God’s mercy. How hard this can be for us if we have been wounded by that person in some way! Only by God’s grace can we extend mercy the way that Jesus does. When we pray for that gift, our stone hearts melt and we are led from unforgiveness and judgment to peace and authentic joy.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, I have experienced your mercy in my own life and, with a heart full of gratitude, I want to be able to extend your mercy to others. Reaching out this way can be difficult for me! Unite me to your merciful heart, so that I may become more merciful.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will reflect on these two parables and ask myself, “What parable would you tell about me?” I’ll pray about it, and write it down.
For Further Reflection: Explore Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti. For example, in number 78 he writes, “We can start from below and, case by case, act at the most concrete and local levels, and then expand to the farthest reaches of our countries and our world, with the same care and concern that the Samaritan showed for each of the wounded man’s injuries. Let us seek out others and embrace the world as it is, without fear of pain or a sense of inadequacy, because there we will discover all the goodness that God has planted in human hearts.”
Deacon Erik Burckel, LC, is a religious in preparation for the priesthood. He writes articles and short stories for diverse purposes and publications, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.