Tuesday of week 2 of Advent – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 18:12-14

After the wonderful Advent reading from Isaiah today, let us now look at the Gospel reading. It comes from chapter 18 of Matthew, in which we find one of the five long discourses of Jesus in his Gospel. The discourse deals with various issues involving relationships in the Christian community, and especially when those relationships break down.

Just before this, Jesus has been talking about scandal, that is, about actions by a Christian which are the cause of a fellow-Christian doing something wrong. It is bad enough to go against God’s will oneself, but to make another fall is much worse. Jesus says it would be better for such a person to be drowned in the sea. This is especially the case if one is dealing with one of the ‘little ones’. These ‘little ones’ are not exactly children – although children are clearly not excluded – but rather those who are weak and immature in their Christian faith and so can easily be misled.

It is at this point that Jesus speaks the parable of the shepherd, a shepherd who has lost just one sheep out of one hundred. He leaves all the ‘good’ ones and goes in search of the stray. It does not say why this one sheep wandered off. All that matters is that it has got lost and is separated from its shepherd. And, when he finds it and brings it back, he is happier over this lost sheep than he is over the ninety-nine who never wandered away. This being a parable, there is probably a little exaggeration here because of course the real Shepherd loves all his sheep equally. But a point is being made – that our God loves us unconditionally, and is not only ready to have us back in the fold, but is positively overjoyed about it.

This parable can be applied both to those ‘little ones’ who were led astray and to those who did the terrible thing of leading them astray. Both will be welcomed back with equal joy.

As we approach Christmas and the birth of that loving Shepherd (how appropriate that the first to greet his arrival were shepherds!), we could well reflect on how we look on those who have gone astray morally or on those who may have been instrumental in causing their behaviour. How judgemental are we? And how ready to receive back the wrongdoer, not just grudgingly, but with joy?

Let the words of Jesus be deeply etched on our hearts at this time:

…it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

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