THE LOST SHEEP

betrayal

This has got to be one of the saddest and truest statements we can read anywhere. It says it so simply and quietly.

And it is so true: What makes betrayal so heartbreaking is that by its very definition, it can, as the statement goes, never come from our enemies. Betrayal is a crime reserved only for those we trust and love.

It’s the most loathsome of sins. In his Inferno, the poet Dante has saved the deepest and most horrifying circle of hell for the sin of treachery, where the most notorious traitors–including Judas–spend eternity locked in the jaws of a three-faced Satan.

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It’s also the deepest of pains. It’s hard to describe that heart-sinking moment when we finally realize that we have been betrayed. Think of Julius Caesar, who, as he bleeds, turns around and winces not so much from his fatal wounds but from recognizing his trusted ally among his treacherous foes: “You too, Brutus?” The question is soaked in deep scarlet disbelief.

Or recall our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the kiss of one of his closest friends seals his fate, an army right behind waiting to pounce. “Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?” Another question, also bewildered. Maybe the only way we can meet betrayal is with a question.

This is why the sin of treachery is the hardest to forgive because the wounds it inflicts are the deepest and last the longest.

So how is Jesus able to keep reaching out to Judas, the one who will betray him? How can he feed “the mouth that will bite him,” and wash the feet of the one who will later walk away to betray him?

The answer seems to lie in the first of Jesus’ so-called “Parables of Mercy”: The Parable of the Lost Sheep. It’s a very short parable, and is worth reading again.

Note: If you can’t see the slideshow, here is the text.

[1] Now the tax collectors and sinners
were all drawing near to hear him.

[2] And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying,
“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

[3] So he told them this parable:
[4] “What man of you, having a hundred sheep,
if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine
in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost,
until he finds it?

[5] And when he has found it,
he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

[6] And when he comes home,
he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them,
`Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’

[7] Just so, I tell you,
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Jesus recognizes in Judas a lost sheep that needs finding. And he knows the joy of bringing that sheep back to the flock is worth all the effort–and the danger. This is why he does not give up.

Perhaps we can learn from Jesus.

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