(Jesus said) “What do you think? Suppose a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one of them strays away- won’t the shepherd leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? If the shepherd finds it, the truth is, there is more joy over the one found than over the ninety-nine that didn’t stray. In the same way, it is never the will of your Abba God in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
Mathew 18:12-13 (Luke 15:4-7)
|Still of transgender artist Heather Cassils from the video Transactivations|
Heather's website: http://www.heathercassils.com/
This shepherd (or sheep-herder since I live in the US) is a bit queer - as in odd - in his actions. The economic consequences of putting the welfare of the sheepfold at risk for a single animal are disastrous. It is hard for us to imagine since this parable has become a beloved image of God's care, but we should see contorted faces on the people being addressed. With the question - "Won't the shepherd leave the ninety-nine and go search for the stray?" - we should hear them emphatically replying "No!"
The parable catches us like the image of the transgender artist Heather Cassils. We look at her/his body - especially the exposed and highlighted chest and our sense of "reality" freezes or even convulses as Cassils' body resists being placed in the standard gender categories of either/or.
In order to maintain such standard categories with our parable some commentators have tried to relieve its convulsive absurdity by claiming other shepherds nearby looked after the ninety-nine. Yet, in removing the ludicrous element and returning the parable to conforming categories we remove its ability to shake our understanding of religious reality.
Starkly, this parable is not concerned with religious people. Rather this parable is for everyone who has been rejected by organized religion be it the church, the synagogue, the mosque, or other. Feminists, pagans, queers, and all heretics prove to be just as valuable to the Heart of the Universe as are those who remain in the fold. If you have ever been told you are a "lost sheep," a "sick pig," or a "pervert" then this parable is for you. If you have never been described by these or other epithets, then sorry this parable is not for you (and oh, how the religious categories shudder).
The parable is simple - the Holy One seeks and finds and in the finding there is great joy. Queer people of faith can and should appropriate this parable as an act of being valued. We, who have often been forced out of religious and family sheepfolds, are sought after in spite of the concern for the ninety-nine. The Sacred, unlike some who minister in the Sacred's name, values our safety and wellbeing.
In my own life, I was a bit late in making public discernment of internal realities. But once discernment was made I begin to write coming out letters to my friends - some who are ministers in the conformist denomination of my youth. Knowing the teachings of my former church I expected to lose friendships which nurtured me through college and seminary. I wondered just how lonely it would become after this endeavor. Then the first response (and really the most important of them all) arrived and ended with the phrase "you have a friend in me." Joy and rejoicing filled me.
Much good news for les-bi-queer-trans-intersex-asexual-allies is found in this parable. The shepherd searches not because the economics of sheep herding requires it. The shepherd searches because the joy of the relationship calls the shepherd forth. This parable is not about salvation economy - standard category. This parable is about God's pride in the rejected heretic - transgressive reality.