Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

December 6, 2016 / By: Paul J. Wojda

Today’s gospel passage has always made me nervous.

Jesus asks his disciples for their opinion: “Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray?” (NJB).

Really?! Leave all ninety-nine? Just to search for one stray, with no guarantee that he will find it? Is that wise?

I suspect some New Testament scholar has studied the issue. There’s doubtless a dissertation molding on the shelves in some German university library (“Schafherden im alten Palästina: Historische-kritische Untersuchungen”) in which we would learn that such risky behavior was common among shepherds in Jesus’ time, and that, in any case, sheep of the non-straying sort were quite capable of looking after each other, power of the herd, etc. etc.

Perhaps. But I’m still nervous.

And that may well be the point. For unless we are at least a little unsettled by this shepherd’s imprudence in going after the one lost sheep, then there’s no way on earth we will ever grasp the even more reckless extravagance of God, “our Father in heaven,” who will not, indeed cannot abide the loss of even the smallest and most insignificant among us. Even more to the point, we risk missing the astounding reality that is the Incarnation itself: nothing less than the largest and most relentless “search and rescue mission” ever.

Be nervous, then. Rejoice. But be nervous.

Paul J. Wojda, Ph.D. is associate professor of theology. He is also the director of the University of St. Thomas’ Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship.