The newspaper headline read “Town Turns Its Back On One Time Favorite Son.” The story went on to describe the reactions of the community of Yorkville, Illinois as they learned of the fall from grace of Dennis Hastert, one time local high school teacher and wrestling coach and then congressman from Illinois and later Speaker of the House of Representatives. While he was Speaker of the House, the town proudly claimed him as their favorite son. But then they learned that allegations of sexual abuse were brought against him stemming from his time as the high school wrestling coach. I mention this not to justify Mr. Hastert’s actions. I know very little about them. No doubt there is a great deal of pain and hurt among those who were victims and a lot of confusion and a sense of being let down and even deceived by the people who once knew him and voted for him. I was struck by this story as I read about the description of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me. The hired hand who does not care for the sheep, may easily abandon them in difficult times, but the Good Shepherd never abandons his sheep.
Is there anything that we could do that would cause Jesus to give up on us, to turn his back on us? I’d like to think that we would agree that Jesus would never give up on us. But then he invites us to imitate him in the way we lives our lives. And there’s the rub. Are there human failures that are unforgivable? I think a case could be made that there are some unforgivable sins and these failures are mostly connected with sexual transgressions. It’s here in the human body where shame and guilt can be imposed on others and, even more sadly imposed on ourselves. But the Good Shepherd does not abandon us. And in doing so, invites us to walk that difficult line of hating the sin but loving the sinner. That’s not an easy place to be. It’s much easier to see things in black and white, right and wrong. But the truth lies somewhere in the middle. And forgiveness is all about being willing to sit in the messiness of this gray area. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, perhaps what we pray for mostly is courage and compassion.