Saturday, September 10, 2016

Sept. 11, 2016: 24th Sunday Ordinary C

Click to hear Audio Homily Have you ever lost something valuable? How did you feel when you lost it and what did you do to try to find it? A few days ago, Fr. Joe went to anoint a parishioner. Some time later while leaving the activity center, he noticed that his holy oil container was missing from his keychain. Although a new container would have cost only $20, he frantically searched everywhere for it because it was an ordination gift from a seminary classmate. He spent time retracing his steps through Donaldsonville, including returning to the activity center. He mentioned to those gathered at the center that the container was missing and everyone suggested that they ask St. Anthony to intercede. When Fr. Joe left the activity center, he noticed the missing container was in the grass and he was quite overjoyed. He didn’t throw a party like the man who lost the sheep, the woman who lost a coin, or the father of the prodigal son. Fr. Joe was overjoyed, nonetheless; for him, it was an intervention from heaven.
Have you ever wondered how God feels when He loses something? You may think that he is all knowing so he can’t possibly lose anything. But when we read through the scriptures, we find stories of loss. The first loss we learn about is Adam and Eve; when they hide in the Garden after eating the fruit, God calls out to them, “Where are you?” We know also that the Israelites were lost in the desert, wandering for 40 years. These scriptures and others are not so much about our search for God but God’s passionate search for us. In the gospel reading today, Jesus reveals the very heart of God through the three parables: lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son. In these parables, Jesus underscored the immense value God places on each individual. For example, in the parable of lost sheep, only one sheep was lost out of a flock of one hundred. From a practical standpoint, the shepherd may have been wise to “cut his losses” by staying with the ninety-nine. Yet, he diligently seeks out his wayward sheep. Rather than being irritated or angry, the shepherd shows special care for the weak, the lost, and the broken. Each sheep is dear to him simply because it belongs to him, and the loss of even one in a hundred grieves him. The security and well-being of the whole flock is assured by the shepherd’s willingness to look for any wandering sheep. The same is true for the woman who lost a coin; the coin was important to her and she spent much time and effort looking for it. She rejoiced when she found the coin. At first glance both parables--lost sheep and lost coin-- seem to make the same point. The second parable, however, stresses the search for the lost item a little more than the first.
In the image of the father waiting for his lost son to return, we see the earnest desire of the Heavenly Father for our return to him, no matter what we have done. Through humble repentance, the lost son becomes a family member again by his father’s total acceptance of his son. Repentance and acceptance should be celebrated by all. Yet in the parable the elder brother is resentful of his brother’s return and is left to decide whether he will join the celebration. God is not just sitting patiently in heaven, waiting for penitent sinners to come home to Him. Rather, our heavenly Father sent His Son into the world to seek us out and find us, like a shepherd seeking his lost sheep, or like a father of a prodigal son who runs down the road to meet his lost son at the first sign of his appearing. There is an old Methodist hymn that echoes this theme: It is a thing most wonderful Almost too wonderful to be That God's own Son should come from heaven And die to save a child like me. And yet I know that it is true He chose a poor and humble lot And toiled and wept and bled and died For love of those who loved Him not. It is the most wonderful thing that God "rejoices" and is "filled with joy" whenever He finds His lost sheep! God love is committed and caring love, or better described as tender mercy. That's who He is. There is an intimacy between our God and His children, an intimacy of which mere hints are given in the Old Testament and revealed fully in the New Testament.
Recovering a lost sinner can take diligent effort, but the effort is worth it when the lost is found. Are you wondering that the lost sinner is sitting next to you? Don't wonder, we are each a lost sinner. At any moment, we could be the prodigal son, choosing to go away from the Father’s side, or the elder brother, choosing to be judgmental and resentful about those who leave the Father’s side. We should know that God is diligently pursuing his children who have wandered away. As disciples we should diligently engage in the search for sinners on behalf of the Father we serve. Jesus provides a clear example for us to follow. Finding lost "sheep" and missing "coins" is a disciple's priority. Jesus involved himself with sinners; so should we.