24th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Here's the upshot of our three parables – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son: if you're lost, you can found. As long as someone is looking and you want to be found, you will be found. Jesus isn't talking about being physically lost here like lost in a strange city w/o a working GPS. He's talking about being lost along The Way, lost off the path to holiness and salvation. This kind of being lost is the worse kind b/c it can end in being eternally lost. So, Jesus wants us to know that God the Father never stops looking. He never ceases searching for us. God the Father is always prepared to welcome us back, to take us in, and give us everything we need to become part of His family again. But we have want to be found. We have to will to come back. The wandering sheep is lost but doesn't know its lost. Same goes for the missing coin. The lost sheep doesn't understand the dangers of falling off a cliff or getting eaten by wolves. The coin doesn't know that it's basically worthless while wedged between floorboards. But the son, the lost son, he knows that being lost, being away from his father has caused him no end of grief. He comes back. He comes back to forgiveness, mercy, and a loving home. And so can we.
It's one thing to wander away from the Church out of neglect or just plain old ignorance. It's quite another to be thrown away from the Church, to be run out of the Church by an angry pastor or haughty parishioners. But to simply walk away, to get lost on purpose is in a whole other realm of Getting Lost. Over my years as a priest I've heard dozens of reasons people give for abandoning the Church. I don't get anything out it. Too much emphasis on boring ritual. Too many hypocrites in the parish. The Church won't celebrate my favorite sin. Always talking about money. All the tradition is gone. Father was mean to me. Too much politics. All religions are basically the same anyway. I could go on for another hour. But each of these is like the lost son taking his abundant inheritance and blowing it on wine, women, and song. Blowing all that he inherited from his father on living it up in the world. And for what? To end up working for a pig farmer and eating what the pigs leave behind. Nearly starving to death on the garbage the world feeds him. Desperate and alone he does the only thing left for him to do. He swallows his excuses and goes home. He expects to find his father in a rage. Instead, he finds forgiveness b/c his father was waiting in love.
You and I are the lost son. Every time we sin, we walk away from the Father. Sometimes it takes nearly starving to death to bring us home. Sometimes it takes being humiliated or nearly ruined to bring us back. Whatever it is that turns us again toward the Father, the Father is always waiting to give us his best cloak and roast up his fattest calf. He wants us to know all this so that no matter how far we run away from Him, He is always right where He has always been. The shepherd leaves 99 sheep to search for the lost one. And he rejoices when he returns home with that sheep across his shoulders. The woman sweeps her whole house looking for one lost coin. And she rejoices with her neighbors when she finds it. The father of the prodigal son rejoices when his boy comes home. Why? Because the son wanted to come home. He willed to return to his family. When you and I want to be found, we will be found b/c God the Father is always right where He has always been.
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