As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we would do well to look at the phenomenon that we know of as “falling in love.”
Anyone who has fallen in love with another person will admit that they were first attracted to something. That attraction grew as he or she spent time with the other person. Soon the attraction developed into desire, and the desire eventually became love.
In St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he rather bluntly tells us that this is not at all how Jesus came to love us. Jesus’ love for us came about even though we were most definitely unattractive. We were, as St. Paul states, helpless and ungodly. Yet Jesus proves his love for us by dying for us while we were still sinners.
Jesus was, quite literally, following in his Father’s footsteps. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God demonstrated the same kind of love for Israel. The Prophet Ezekiel speaks of God providing for the scattered, the lost, the strayed, the injured, and the sick. Quite remarkably, Ezekiel goes on to say that it is the sleek and the strong that God will destroy.
The parable that we read from St. Luke’s Gospel is addressed to the Pharisees and scribes who have written off Jesus because of his association with prostitutes and tax collectors. He speaks of the sheep who has strayed from the flock and the efforts to which the shepherd goes to retrieve this wayward lamb. In using the image of a shepherd and a lost sheep, Jesus deliberately uses an image of someone whose occupation places himself outside the boundaries of the Law. While living out on the hillsides of Israel, tending the flocks, shepherds would have been unable to keep the dietary laws of Judaism as well as the customs and traditions which had become so ingrained in the daily activity of the Pharisees and scribes. They were unable to leave the flock unattended and, therefore, incapable of attending worship in the synagogue or the Temple, unable to care for the needs of wife and children. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that God is like a shepherd, a person who would have not been someone with whom Pharisees and scribes would be accustomed to socialize.
Jesus’s love for us is not based upon who we are. Rather, it is based upon who He is. Jesus’ love for us starts with the unappealing and goes on to make us appealing, to fashion us more and more, patiently and slowly, into his likeness.
As we receive him in communion today, we are invited to become what we eat and drink, the very love of the Heart of Jesus which reaches out to all, especially to those whom society would deem unattractive or unappealing.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator