As I learned in priesT – school (with the “t” pronounced obviously), chapter 15 of St. Luke’s Gospel is his “Lost and Found Department.” Lost and found go together with joy and rejoice. These notions tie the whole section together. Three stories of things lost-–a strayed sheep, a vanished coin, a runaway son. And something links the three. In each one, the person suffering the loss reacts in a really crazy way, with joy and rejoicing. Yes, despite all the sentiment that’s piled up around him, even the father of the prodigal son is soft in the head. Most who hear of the prodigal will remark: “Let a kid pull off a trick like that without punishment, you’re looking at certain prison time down the road, mark my words.”
But let’s just focus on the first two stories, the ones where the out-of-kilter protagonists set themselves to find what they’d lost. The lost son comes home on his own.
First, try to imagine 100 sheep. If you packed them into our church, cheek to jowl, nose to tail they’d carpet about half of it, I guess. And just one of them stupidly wanders off. Jesus says, “Who among you would not leave the 99 in the wasteland and search for the lost one?” Well, I’ll raise my hand. “Uh, me, sir. To leave 99 sheep–-my family’s livelihood–-to the mercy of wolves and thieves and their own brute imbecility? Leave 99 and search for one, that’s just plain stupid. Chalk it up to bad luck, cut the loss, and move on.”
Second, the woman who lost one of ten coins. We’re not talking 100 to one this time, so the single loss is bigger. But the woman casts away any pretense of perspective–-forget drawing water, grinding grain, squalling children. She’s determined to find that single denarius. That’s a day’s wages for a man. So what does she do? Wastes an entire day trying to find it. Spending lamp oil money, she lights a lamp. And she sweeps and she cleans. And when she finally finds the thing, she doesn’t stash it safely in the coffee can with the other coins. Oh, no! Silly lady, she hollers for all the neighbors to come over for a party to celebrate–-and spends probably more than the value of the coin she lost to wine and dine, to rejoice with the neighbors.
All three of those stories are about crazy people without a shred of common sense. And yet, inescapably, Jesus clearly told us these stories to help us to understand God better. According to Jesus, God doesn’t have even the basic good sense to cut his losses and get on with life. He comes out thrashing the bushes, roaming the wilderness tirelessly, calling the stray by name. That doesn’t square with the meticulous quid-pro-quos of the catechisms. Infatuation, like the kind God has for us, just won’t submit to factoring. And the odd thing is, once you allow yourself to consider God as a genuinely loving father you will find the God you’ve searched for and can no longer live without Him. He knows that, most of the time, we haven’t thumbed our noses at him but merely–-easily misled as sheep–-drifted away, nosing around, hardly aware yet that we’re even “out of it.”
And if serious sinners returning really kicks up a joyous riot in heaven, return home to God! The alternative, and there might be only one, is to end up like Judas, believing our
sins were more important than God’s ability to love.
I dunno about you, but I feel lost and lonely just about once every day of my life –-often more frequently than that. Isn’t it wonderful to accept that God is crazily still on the prowl for each of us, no matter how wicked or boring we are?
Let yourself be caught by God’s love. If not today, when?