Greetings, SBT Readers!
When a great soul departs this world, the world knows it -- and the world grieves. Despite some negative commentary about the royal family's connection to colonialism, the tributes pouring in on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's death acknowledge how highly she was esteemed across the globe, not just as a monarch but as a symbol of devoted service, selfless giving and stability. Commentators have pointed out that her passing marks the end of an era, but I believe that era -- an era of resilience, courage, and gracious living-- has long been gone. Rather, Elizabeth II reminded us that even in a world gone mad -- a world that has lost its moral compass and sense of humanity-- it is still possible to live with grace, dignity and compassion for all. On this anniversary of 9/11, a day of infamy and terror, may her example not only inspire the world's leaders but also touch the hearts of ordinary citizens everywhere; and may all of us remember the extraordinary reach each of us can have on the world's stage, just by being our best selves.
Link to the Sunday Readings
Tax collectors and sinners drew near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began complaining, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he addressed them with this parable.
“Who among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go looking for the lost one until it is found?
And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon arriving home, calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see
Being lost and being found -- that seems to be the theme of today's readings! Whether we look at the "stiff-necked people" in EX 32:7-14, or at St. Paul before his conversion --"once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant" (Tm 1:12-17)-- or stories of missing sheep, lost sons and lost coins, the outcome is the same: That which is lost is found and God in God's mercy creates something new, initiating new possibilities. If we missed this message in our first reading, or if we somehow failed to understand the Pauline text, the Gospel hammers home the message with Jesus' references to the lost sheep and the lost coin, and with his Parable of the Prodigal Son.
But profound as this message may be, there is more to it than simply being lost and being found again. In the first place, neither the idolatrous Israelites, nor the missing sheep, nor Saul the persecutor of Christians, nor the missing coin know they are lost; and for his part, the prodigal son only realizes he is "lost" because he is hungry. Far from knowing they are "lost," prior to being "found" the Israelites are engrossed in their worship of the molten calf; Saul is obsessed with hunting down Christians; the missing sheep is happily wandering towards danger, oblivious to wolves, brambles and other threats; the coin has merrily rolled away; and the youngest son is enjoying a life of debauchery.
Secondly, in each passage -- with the exception of the parable-- the lost are found precisely because someone actively befriends them or seeks them out. Moses intercedes for his faithless people, Paul alludes to his life-changing encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus; the good shepherd goes in search of the missing sheep, and the woman with nine remaining coins searches relentlessly for the one that is missing.
One could add, however, that the father's unconditional love for his erring son is what ultimately brings him home. Moreover, it is the father who runs towards his son, embraces him and welcomes him home.
Thirdly, "being found" results in great joy. In EX 32:7-14, Moses' intercession saves the people from God's wrath and ensures that God will continue to uphold the covenant. In
1 Tim 1:12-17, Paul describes the abundant grace and mercy he has received, despite being the "foremost" of sinners. And in the gospel, the shepherd rejoices over finding his missing sheep, the woman celebrates finding her lost coin and the father throws the most extravagant party in his family's memory because his lost son has finally returned home.
This joy is both human and divine. The "finders" in this text, like God, rejoice when those who are lost come home again, with contrite hearts and the willingness to begin anew. For their part, those who are "found" find mercy, forgiveness and unlimited love. This experience of "love beyond all telling" reorients them to the sacred path, aligning them with God's will once more, and opening up an infinite store of transforming grace. Perhaps the more we stray, the greater our capacity for joy!
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
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