Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
What does it mean to be lost . . . then found again?
The Pharisees in today’s Gospel were quick to point the finger at tax collectors and sinners, people who in their opinion were hopelessly lost. Did they ever stop to think that they themselves were of a heritage of people who strayed from God’s commands? In our first reading from Exodus, it was the Hebrews just saved from slavery in Egypt who strayed from God and the commandments He had just issued. They were not to worship any gods but the one God, they were not to create for themselves any graven images. That’s two strikes against them. God was about to wipe them all out and start again with Moses. This sounded like a sweet deal for Moses, but what does God’s appointed leader do? Take the Lord up on the offer? No! He defends his people. He “stands in the breach” for them, as one Psalm puts it. He convinces God to show them mercy.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is well aware of the Pharisees’ accusations of the company kept by our Lord. Yet Jesus does not lash back at them, but gives three very poignant images of what it means to be lost, then found. The shepherd who left 99 sheep to go out and look for the one who got away. To the average shepherd of Jesus’ time, this seems like such a waste of time and very much against the aim of each shepherd: to bring as many sheep to market as possible. One who abandons the many to save the few or the one has no head for business. Yet Jesus motto is not “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. Jesus rather takes up the motto, “the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many”. Not that he does not care for the many, but He cares for each and every one of the many individually.
And what about the woman who lost her coin? She feverishly sweeps the house all day until she finds it. And what does she do when she does find it? Just nod her head in satisfaction? No, she, in essence throws a party, a party (I might add) that probably cost her much more than the little coin was worth to begin with. This is how lavishly God pours His attention on us.
And who could simply pass by the most beloved of Jesus’ parables: The Lost Son, or the Prodigal Son. The Gospel this week may have been a little long, but it’s well worth it to hear once again this very rich and profound story. Like Jesus’ other parables, we can often see ourselves at different times in our lives in the role of one or the other of the characters; perhaps at one time the older son, perhaps at other times, even the fattened calf, giving its life’s blood for the lost who has been found. Yet very often we can see ourselves as the Prodigal Son himself, constantly asking God for our share of “the goods”, and yet constantly turning our backs on the one Father in heaven who loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine.
The loving father, in our estimation, had every right to turn his back on the child that turned his back on him. We all deserve the most severe punishment for our sins, for offending God Almighty. Yet Our Lord, when given the opportunity to exact justice, chooses to show mercy on us. He does this by sending His only Son to die on the Cross for us. Just as St. Paul says on our second reading, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners”, indeed sacrificed Himself to save us sinners.
Let us rejoice in the intense mercy of God. Let us bask in His love for us. Let us acknowledge our guilt, as we sing in today’s Psalm, and tap into the font of His mercy through the sacrament of Reconciliation. God will go out of His way to bring us back, to find us when we are lost. The question remains, do we want to be found?