Jesus said: ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
This passage contains several of the ‘classic’ quotes we often hear individually (“For where two or three are gathered”, the lost sheep, seventy-seven times). Often, I find short Bible quotes quite difficult to hold. They can be used, for ill, out of context. Sometimes, quite literally, out of the verses that surround them. The overarching theme of these quotes, and the passage on the whole, is a focus on the individual. The uniqueness that one brings and the importance of their presence amongst a community. As a church, it can sometimes feel like Life of Brian when the crowd ironically chorus: “Yes, we’re all individuals!” It can be easy to keep the status quo, blend into the crowd rather than stand out.
But how often do we take time to listen to someone one-to-one, stepping out of our comfort zone as we do so? To care for that one lost sheep? In the busyness of our lives, and in our churches where we feel lumbered with more and more, it can seem difficult to prioritise individuals.
I recently completed some safeguarding training through my part-time job. I was reminded that at the very core of safeguarding, is care for the individual. Since then I have found myself spending more time praying and caring for individuals than ever before. As John Bradbury eloquently expressed back in 2020 at the Safeguarding Symposium: “At the heart of the Christian story is an abused individual, Jesus. Ignoring this risks us becoming ‘those’ people who wish to go straight from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Alleluias of Easter Day”.
So how will you weep with those who weep, and celebrate with those who celebrate, this day?
Safeguarding God, Thank you for creating me in your image. Forgive me when I fail to recognise the beauty of individuals, Empower me to step out of my comfort zone, To support those who feel lost, To care for those who feel hurt, To grieve with those who feel alone Help me to remember to care for myself too. To take time for self-care and replenishment. Amen.
Dan Morrell, Founder of Media for Ministry, currently attending St Thomas Crookes, Sheffield.