Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary (Page 16 of 32)

By: Fr. Victor PotapovRead time: 215 mins16004 Hits

Lord Jesus Christ’s third group of parables deal with how to overcome evil, which may try to undo the work of the Incarnation and deification of man by conversion.

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly? I lay down my life for the sheep.. I am the good shepherd? I am not a hireling who careth not for the sheep? And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” These words are from Christ’s parable of the good shepherd. Christ’s flock, His Church, is supposed to be One. In eternity, God will be “all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28). In that Kingdom of God, Christ gathers all men who have come to believe in Him and who have fulfilled His Gospel (Revelation 14:6), out of love for whom He offers Himself in sacrifice. ” The Lord came into the world for the sake of the salvation of all men”(I Timothy 4:10), in order that there might be one flock and one Shepherd.

Christ’s salvation has evil as primordial “enemy,” that “thief” or “wolf” that comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy, not to let the sheep have Life everlasting, but to carry them off. This mysterious “wolf” wants to hinder the saving work of the Shepherd-Christ, not only for sheep within the fold (the Church of Christ), but the wolf wants the other sheep – whole of mankind – as well. We do not ask why some billions of people are outside the sheepfold – the Old Testament and New Testament Church of Christ. We have no answer in this world. All we do have is the good sense to see the reality of evil and its incompatibility with good. We can see it in daily experience.

The strange thing is to see evil within ourselves as well as outside. We can see evil living beside the good in us. The wolf in sheep’s clothing enters the sheepfold of our Christian hearts and lives there with the lambs. The Good Shepherd knows this, but allows it and is silent for the time being. He made us free, so that we may choose Light and Good and Beauty and Truth and Love voluntarily, without His coercion, without prompting, so we can come to Him freely as His children. Each of us, together with the apostles in sorrow must say:

“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. . . Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. . . For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. . . For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24).

Each of us knows how this conflict hinders our single-minded devotion to the Good Shepherd. We struggle every minute, to find the joy of abiding in the Fold of Christ.

Although we have personal experience of this conflict, do we easily tolerate it in other people. Why is it so hard for us to understand conflict and contradiction in other people? We often imagine other people as stereotypes without conflicts. “Likeable” people have positive qualities, while “unlikeable” have only shortcomings. These prejudgments hinder our valuing and loving people. For example, because of a man’s insufficient faith, we are ready to close our eyes to his ability to love sacrificially; his innate bad character so irritates us, that, aside from this bad character, we do not wish to see anything good. We take human fatigue for carelessness and laziness. Human irritability we take for obdurate, incorrigible sin. We take a man’s disagreement with our ideas for his stupidity. We may think to expel that man from the Sheepfold although the Shepherd-Christ lays down His life for all the sheep. We may forget the thief on the Cross, and Matthew the Publican, and Mary the sinner. When we cast a stone at the harlot, we forget how Christ in our place once treated her (John 8:7-11).

By overlooking a man’s virtues, but counting his shortcomings, we demonstrate our blindness to the image of God in our brother and sister. And by not seeing the image of God in each man, we calumniate the Creator, as though He were capable of hurting one of His creatures unjustly. How can one imagine that the Savior is concerned only about the good and obedient sheep? The Savior has said that He has other sheep not of this fold, but sheep that He must gather.

These other sheep must hear Christ’s voice and go to Him. They can hear His voice through our Christian witness of His Resurrection. These other sheep can arise only after they sense God’s image goodness in themselves and forget his past slavery in sin, according to the Apostle Paul: “Forgetting those things which are behind [that is, the past], and reaching forth unto those things which are before “ (Philippians 3:13). By forgiving men their blunders and sins, we take part in their arising, coming back to life and taking wing. By finding good in a man, we perform the missionary work of drawing him into Christ’s Fold, where, according to the Church hymn, “the sound is unceasing of those who keep festival, and the delight is endless of those who behold the ineffable beauty of the Lord’s countenance.”

Of course, we must pray for ourselves and for others as well. Prayer is the first and greatest work of mercy. So let the following parables – the unmerciful debtor, the good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus, and the unjust steward – speak to us about forgiveness of offences, good works and virtues; and let them encourage us to pray.

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