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I hate the title “lost sheep.” Okay, maybe hate is a strong word, but I’m not too fond of it. The title itself gives a sense of inferiority if a person “belongs” to this label. To name a particular group of people as lost assumes a couple of things. First, specific actions or behaviors determine a person more lost than another, and second, it implies that I am less lost than a person on the lost sheep list. Why would I consider myself not as lost as someone? Because I go to vespers and midnight praises? Because I attend liturgy weekly? Or I serve or am a coordinator? Do I think I’m not a “lost sheep” because I don’t do drugs or drink? Who in the world do I think I am? Am I so stuck up that I think I am better than someone merely because my sin is different than them? If so, then I am no different than the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican Christ shares in Luke 18:9-14. 

In hearing this parable, we may quickly condemn the Pharisee and forget that at that time, the Pharisee would have been thought of as the one to win God’s approval. In contrast, the publican or tax collector was hated, looked down upon, and judged as inferior. In comparison, the Pharisee would be the modern “deacon” who knows hymns, sounds terrific, and serves. Or the “Coptic girl” that doesn’t talk to boys and still wearing her asharb even after liturgy is over. Whereas the publican is the person, I consider a lost sheep.

In his commentary, St. Cyril of Alexandria nicely compares how a healthy person doesn’t look down upon a sick person. Instead, that person is afraid of themselves becoming sick. He also relates how a soldier who doesn’t praise themselves because they’ve survived a war when their comrade has not. He continues to say, “The weakness of others is not a suitable subject for praise for those who are in health.” 

Maybe I don’t consciously pray like the Pharisee in the parable, exalting and praising myself for not doing certain sins as the publican did. Still, I may see myself as being better. It is easy to see the good that we do and the negative that others do because “we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior” (Stephen M.R. Covey). In an older post, I said the following. I judge and think with arrogance about people who do certain things because I cannot bear the weight of my own judgment. I am hard on others because I’ve had enough of being hard on myself. So I relieve that pressure by dumping it onto others, taking the spotlight off myself. I cannot bear the shame of my own sin, so I compare myself to others in a self-righteous manner to calm my wounded ego. That is why St. Basil says, “it is more difficult to confess one’s sins than one’s righteousness.” It is difficult because my ego blinds me in a weak attempt to repair my self-esteem, being unable to sit with my insecurities.

The reality is that everyone is a lost sheep. The second I forget this reality is the second I lose the grace of God working in my life because I no longer think I need His grace. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). However, this does not mean I wallow in pity as “Saint Ephraim of Syria says that the Church is not a body of saints; it is a crowd of repentant sinners. And by repentant, we do not mean moaning sinners, but people who have turned God-wards and move God-wards, who may fall but will stand” (Metropolitan Anthony Bloom). When I learn to take off my masks and stand before God in all my ugliness and shame, His grace takes place in me. When I do not hide my barrenness under any appearance, I can have synergy with God’s grace.