Matthew 18:12-14 - Theodicy
Jesus said to his disciples: "What is your opinion? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray? And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost."
Can a person go astray? We experience all the time that life can go as planned or not, that one can get distracted or lose determination, that certain events can throw us back. But getting lost? That would imply, on the one hand, that life has one specific destination; and, on the other, that there is no guarantee for us to reach it. Can a person really go astray? Eternally?
You see how Jesus, with such a simple parable as today’s, prompts us to ask the big questions of life. Without a doubt, His primary intention was to convey how caring and loving our heavenly Father is and how much He strives to protect us and rescue us. The image of the good shepherd is heart-warming. But it is certainly not meant to encourage a laissez-fair attitude. Along with the central message of God’s loving goodness there is the reminder of life’s seriousness. There is the reminder that a person really can go astray.
Thus, the peaceful image of the shepherd and his sheep embodies the greatest drama imaginable: In a world with a loving God, evil and perdition still occur. The shepherd will try relentlessly to find the lost one; and He will celebrate when He has recovered him; but the whole situation is only as dramatic as it is because that recovery is no given fact. It is a quest. A quest for each one of us. This coexistence of God’s love and man’s (potential) tragic subjection to evil has led many people to give up on their faith; they surrendered over the tension that this conundrum casts. And it is a task for our minds and hearts indeed to understand the drama of history in the light of our faith: If God exists and if He is so good and powerful, why is there evil in the world? And moreover, why can people go astray eternally?
The struggle with this problem, the “theodicy,” will sometimes entail a philosophical discussion. But much more importantly, our reflection on Scripture and our colloquium in prayer are the ways to contemplate that reality in the light of faith. And today’s gospel is such a wonderful example of how Jesus guides our thought process and questions in the most gentle and deep fashion.
How simple and brief this gospel is! And yet, if you follow the footsteps of this shepherd, if you get close to His heart and sense the love which motivates the way how He chooses to redeem us - then you will nurture in your soul the wisdom which solves the tensions mentioned previously. Jesus leads the way to comprehending our life’s quest. Follow Him!