There is a wonderful story in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.18:12) about a person who has a flock of 100 sheep. One of the sheep wanders off and gets lost. The flock is no longer complete and the wandering sheep is no longer connected. This is a loss to both the remaining 99 and the one who is now apart from the whole flock. It is a story of separation and loss. But it is also a tale of something much more significant.
The loss is recognized. So great is the shepherd’s concern the person leaves the 99 and goes in search of the lost one. What a great image of our God, a God of compassion and concern for all. And a God whose merciful love is especially evident when there is a lost one who has fallen outside the flock. It is a revelation of who our God is. More than this, it reveals who we who are the image of God are to be.
God’s love and mercy extend to all humanity, regardless of race, religion or culture. That merciful love especially is directed to the vulnerable, the wounded and the threatened, those most in need. Each person is special in God’s eyes. The one who is of particular concern to God is the one who is most threatened, most alone and most in need.
On December 8, Pope Francis opened our Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy. Throughout the coming year we as a community of God’s People called to live as the image of our God in the world will be particularly focused on our expression of merciful love for all. In particular we are to direct our love and attention towards those who are apart from the flock, from relationship with our Church community.
Who are these outcasts of our community? Among them perhaps are those who for a long time we have regarded as regarded as “not fitting into the flock.” And there are many, not the least are: the separated, divorced and remarried, couple living together outside of marriage, members of the gay community and those who for any number of reasons, personal and otherwise have simply drifted away from relationship with our Church.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy is an opportunity for we as Church to open the door of welcome to all, especially to those we have lost for so many years. Following on the image of God as the caring, concerned shepherd, each of us has the power and opportunity to open that door – for all. This year, how can we as Church, each of us, reach out and reflect God’s compassion and love to those who have for too long felt excluded and apart from us? This year is destined to be a time of blessing for all.