Sep 14, 2013

24th Sunday: Are you lost?

(Tissot: The Good Shepherd)
"I have found my lost sheep . . ."
Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14
I Tim 1: 12-17
Lk 15: 1-32

Have you ever been lost? Maybe as a child or driving in a car futilely looking for an address only to find that your ever reliable GPS has led you astray? Or maybe you lost the keys to your house or your car?  “St. Anthony, help me find those keys!”  

God forbid the horror parents would suffer should they lose one of their own children. Why do we often become so distraught when losing our cell phone, house/car keys, or become frustrated when we can’t find our way?  Because we place so much value on the object we have lost or the important destination that we are desperately searching for or the precious value of that person in our lives.  If we find the object of our search, we rejoice!  In the case of loved ones, our lives are whole again and we may indeed feel reconciled to the one who wandered away. So, maybe the greatest find is that of coming home. After a long period of travel it’s always great to come home.  Your own bed suddenly feels like a luxurious pillow top mattress. 

This Sunday our scriptures clearly deal with the lost and found.  Yet, it is more about the nature of a God who is merciful and forgiving; about a God who searches out the lost.

The lost coin, the wandering sheep, and the father who waits with patience and hope that his wayward son would return home all indicate to us the very nature of our God.  Still, how can one coin be so valuable beyond the value of all the others that one would, “. . . light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it . . .?” (Lk 15)

Or what’s the big deal about, “. . . losing one (sheep) . . .” when you still have ninety-nine more? What kind of shepherd would, “. . . leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? . . .” In doing so he leaves the group unprotected as he wanders off to look for the lost one. 
"Ok, whose missing??"

Or what kind of parent would tolerate the extreme bad and disrespectful behavior of an ungrateful son who insults his own father, then wanders off to squander the money his father gave to him? As the son comes to his senses, how many fathers would be sitting day and night focused on the hopeful return of their son.  When he does return, they “. . . ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him . . .” Then they throw a party on his return! Through God’s eyes we see far more.

In our first reading from Exodus we hear of a “stiff-necked” (stubborn) people.  God is furious with the Hebrews who seem to have forgotten who their true God is for them.  They have made a false idol, a molten calf and offered worship to this thing over the true living God who rescued them from the Egyptians.  He wants to let his, “. . . wrath blaze up against them to consume them . . .” What an ungrateful lot!

However, Moses appeals to God to chill out for a moment and reminds God of his faithful servants of the past: Abraham, Isaac, and Israel who received God’s promise (covenant) of fidelity to his “stiff-necked” people.  Why would God now destroy the object of his love and generosity? It is a very human view of God’s “wrath,” though God’s anger is not to be dismissed.  Yet, it certainly makes the point that the nature of God is to show mercy and forgiveness because even the stiff-necked ones remain precious in God’s eyes.

So, it seems clear these images of sheep, coins, a wandering son, and a stubborn short-sighted people remind us that God desires all be gathered into his love and find their way home to him which illustrate the mystery of God’s infinite desire that all be saved by his grace.   

How do you feel about a God who appears so blind to bad behavior or a God who whose seemingly risks the safety of others in order to go after the one that is lost? The God which Jesus teaches us cares about all with an infinite mercy and love that is beyond what we mortal humans can do.

Jesus reminds us, though, that despite God’s apparent tolerance of our irresponsible or stubborn behavior to control our own lives and dismiss him, we still have some mending to do.  The merciful father in the parable loved his son completely and rejoiced at his return.   But, the damage done cannot be ignored and taking an active part in reconciliation is essential.

When we have done harm to another or to ourselves or ignored the importance of our spiritual life, what must I do to reconcile?  In practical terms, who must I seek forgiveness from?  What sort of restitution must I offer?  What spirit must I embrace to find forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What lesson should I learn about conversion?    

God cares about the lost in particular and through his cross and resurrection, has sacrificed absolutely everything in order to have us reconciled with him and each other.  Our Eucharist remembers this great act on the part of God and seeks our response of love and humility.  
Look upon us, O God,
creator and ruler of all things,
and, that we may feel the working of your mercy,
grant that we may serve you with all our heart.

(Roman Missal: Collect for Sunday)