Part III. Parables of the necessity of forgiving offences, of good works and virtues

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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, about which we have already spoken.

In Christ's flock, in His Church, which is outside our temporal state, in eternity, that is, there, where God will be all in all (I Corinthians 15:28), in that otherworldly flock of Christ are gathered together all men who have come to believe in Him and have fulfilled the testament of His Everlasting Gospel (Revelation 14:6), and 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.

In this work of general, universal salvation and deification, there is a hindrance - evil, which mysteriously and in a somehow incomprehensible manner has appeared in the world. In the parable already examined by us, this is that primordial "enemy", that "thief" or "wolf" who is spoken of, who comes for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy, so as to not let all the sheep attain Life everlasting, who thinks only about how to carry off or drive off the sheep.

This mysterious "wolf" wants to hinder the saving work of the Creator of the world, the Shepherd-Christ, not only with regard to those sheep that are already within the saving sheepfold (that is, the visible, historical Church of Christ); but the wolf wants to expand his godless activity in the universal plane common to all men. He wants not only to carry off and drive off the sheep already within the enclosure of the fold, but his aim is not to allow into the enclosure those sheep who somehow have remained outside of it.

We shall not ask ourselves idle questions concerning how it happened that there are people (and there are billions of them) who are found to be outside the Sheepfold, that is, outside the visible Old Testament and New Testament Church of Christ. An answer to this question has not been given to our temporal consciousness.

The question of the origin of evil in the world is a question transcending the limits of our consciousness that remains in time and in space. All that is granted to this consciousness is to sense the reality of evil and to see its incompatibility with good. This is within our capability, and we perceive this through the daily experience of our life.

And - a strange thing - we perceive evil not only outside of us, outside the enclosure of our own person, but also within us ourselves: we see how evil, in a mysterious manner, lives right along side good in our souls.

The wolf (is he not often in sheep's clothing?) penetrates the sheepfold of our Christian heart and lives together with the lambs.

The All-seeing Good Shepherd knows of this, but for some reason He allows this and for the time being is silent. Is it not because He decided to make us free, so that we would voluntarily choose Light and Good and Beauty and Truth and Love - so that without coercion, without prompting we would come to Him, not as automata or slaves in bondage, but as the free children of God?

Each of us, together with the Apostle, sorrows, saying: 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 after 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 the body of this death? (Romans 7:15-24).

Each of us knows this inner duality that hinders our single-minded devotion to the Good Shepherd. We struggle with this duality every minute, and, in conquering it, we find the joy of abiding in the Fold of Christ's flock.

But why, when we have personal experience of duality, do we tolerate its presence in other people with such difficulty? Why is it so difficult for us to conceive that not everything goes smoothly in other people also, that there is conflict and inner contradiction in them as well?

Why do we constantly deceive ourselves by assuming that this joining of good with evil cannot happen in another person? Why do we often imagine other people as some kind of monoliths, made only of one material; "likeable" people seem to us to be monoliths of positive qualities, while "unlikable" people look like monoliths of shortcomings to us? Is it not this wholesale, prejudicial judging that hinders us from valuing a man and loving him for his good qualities, in spite of his shortcomings?

In our one-sided appraisal we risk not seeing the forest for the trees, not seeing a man's valuable qualities because of some kind of shortcoming or sin. 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. Human fatigue we take for carelessness and laziness. Human irritability we take for obdurate, irreparable, incorrigible sin. A man's disagreement with our ideas we take for stupidity. And thinking thus, we, in our thoughts, expel the man from that Sheepfold where the Shepherd-Christ lays down His life for all the sheep.

Instead of being the Lord's co-laborers in drawing all men into the one flock of Christ, we, by putting a negative label on a man, hinder the Saviour's desire to forgive all men - and He forgives 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 not noticing a man's virtues, but only his shortcomings; by not seeing that which we ought to have seen in the first place, we demonstrate our own subjective blindness that hinders us from seeing 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 so cruelly and unjustly.

And the main thing is: How can one think that it is only about the good and obedient sheep that the Saviour is concerned, Who has said that He has sheep not only of this fold, but also other sheep that He must bring ?

These sheep should someday hear Christ's voice, and, having heard it, should come to Him. They can hear this voice through us Christians, of course, that is, through the witnesses of His Resurrection. By forgiving a man his blunders and sins we take part in his arising, his coming back to life and taking wing. A man can arise only when he has sensed positive forces in himself and has forgotten about his past enslavement to sin. According to the word of 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).

In turning our attention toward the 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, this is revealed through prayer. We must pray not only for ourselves, but for one another as well. This is the first and most essential work of mercy. Let the following parables of the Lord, which we need to investigate - the parables of the unmerciful debtor, of the good Samaritan, of the rich man and Lazarus, of the unjust steward - which speak of the necessity of forgiving offences, of good works and virtues, inspire us for this.

©V. Potapov

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