September 15, 2019: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
We’ve all lost something. Whether our keys, wallet or phone, we know the experience of misplacing an item that we use on a daily basis. In such moments, we are reminded of their importance and keenly feel the frustration of their loss. Similarly, in our spiritual life there may be times when we feel the loss of support and blessing from God. In times of difficulty, it is natural enough to lose faith in the Church, in God and even in the closest relationships we have. Such loss unsettles the foundation of our well-being. It is then when perhaps we relate to the contemporary wordsmith M. Stipe as he pines: “Every whisper of every waking hour I'm choosing my confessions. Trying to keep an eye on you. Like a hurt lost and blinded fool.” Much of life includes loss. Losing our connection with God and feeling loss is a part of the spiritual journey.
In our Gospel this weekend, we hear three parables about lost things: the lost sheep, the lost son, and the lost coin. Each of these stories highlight different aspects of the relationship between the person who has suffered the loss and thing or person who is lost. There are two fundamental dimensions to these stories. First, there is a reminder to us that losing touch with God is a real possibility. If we are not diligent in cultivating a real relationship with our loving God, we can find ourselves like the lost sheep or the prodigal son, who ends up destitute once he’s cut off from his benevolent Father. Being spiritually lost is not simply a possibility, but a reality in which we find ourselves even before we are fully aware of it. Jesus’ parables of loss serve as a caution that we can easily lose connection with God. If we are not in the habit of daily prayer, weekly Mass and monthly confession, we can gradually, but inevitably, drift further and further from the source of our blessing. In other words, if we are not searching for God, we are lost.
Second, and more importantly, Jesus’ parables underscore the revelation that God is always searching for us with absurd abandon. The shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to look for one is, frankly, foolish. Every shepherd knows that there are a few sheep that will get lost on the journey. Just as entrepreneurs’ budget for and expect “breakage” as part of doing business, so too we should expect that a Good Shepherd would be more than content to keep nurturing the ninety-nine. A shepherd that runs off for everyone single sheep who wanders won’t be a shepherd with a flourishing flock for very long. Again, the Father who neglects the running of his estate to sit atop a hillock every day in the faint hope that his prodigal son might return might be accused of a being poor steward of his property. Finally, the woman who searches her house for one lost coin and then spends it (and presumable more) to celebrate its recovery does not provide a good example of fiscal responsibility. Since we’re all familiar with these parables, we can lose sight of the seemingly irrational behavior of the protagonist in searching for the lost. Jesus’ point is this: There are no lengths that God does not go to search for us when we are lost. God’s greatest desire is to search, to seek out those who have lost their way. He wants to heal, comfort and bring us back to the fold of relationship with him. Before we even realize that we are lost, before we begin to search for God, He is searching for us.
At the end of the Gospel, we hear one of the most celebratory passages in the Scripture: “I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The joy of heaven swells when the lost are found. If we find ourselves in a state of loss, feeling disconnected from all that gives us a sense of stability and well-being, know that a search is afoot. This reality helps us to begin to take steps in the difficult journey to search for God. For even before we take the first step, God is already striding eagerly towards us. His arms are flung open wide and his face is beaming with smile in the radiance of joy!