Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Tm 1:12-17
I used to have a calendar that basically contained my entire life. Appointments, notes, places I was supposed to be, things I was supposed to do, all of them were in that calendar. Without it I could not function. Once, I lost it, and despair ensued. This was a paper calendar, in the days before PDA’s. There was no computer backup. How could I possibly hope to recreate this calendar? I could never remember all of it. That’s why I had it in the first place. I searched everywhere for that calendar. If it was lost, so was I. Without it things were incomplete. It finally turned up (thank you, St. Anthony!), even though the most exhaustive search I could mount didn’t find it. That calendar was lost, like the coin was lost by the woman in the Gospel. She had ten coins, looked again, and only had nine. How did it get lost? Who knows? It just wasn’t there. She searched everywhere until it was found. That coin mattered. The lost sheep in the other story, however, is a little different. Unlike the coin, it didn’t simply vanish without explanation, it wandered away. I doubt the sheep intended to wander off, it simply wasn’t paying attention and found itself separated from the flock. The shepherd, realizing the sheep was gone, began to search, refusing to stop until the lost sheep had been found and returned to the fold. That sheep mattered. Then there is the son who decided he wanted to go off and live it up. He did not just vanish, or wander off without realizing how lost he had become, he left intentionally. He was lost, but not exactly in the same way as the coin or the sheep. He chose to jump off the edge, a decision he came to regret. Even though he left voluntarily, his father never stopped looking for him. He didn’t mount the massive search that the woman or the shepherd did, but he looked, he watched, and he waited. The passage says that he caught sight of him while he was still a long way off. I can only conclude that he was looking for him, watching to see if he would return. Even though he essentially abandoned the family, even though he squandered part of the family wealth, this son mattered.
When we get lost, we get lost in much the same way. Sometimes we just vanish. Maybe we stop praying, maybe we just stop thinking about God, we forget that we need our faith, and we are just lost, no real explanation, it just happened. Sometimes we are like the sheep, we get distracted by all of the stuff in the world around us and we wander away following this whim or that fad and look up one day to find ourselves lost, away from the fold, and not really sure we can find our way back. Too often we are like the Prodigal Son, we take our inheritance and toss it away. We get lost alright, we get lost because we want to get lost. We are certain that all of this other stuff the world has to offer is a lot more fun, and we dive in until we find ourselves bankrupt, spiritually and emotionally bankrupt, lost, and wanting to go home, but afraid. No matter how we manage to get lost, the search for us is on. Just like the woman searching for the vanished coin, God seeks us when we disappear. When we wander off like the sheep, God, like the shepherd, searches for us until we are found. When we throw it all away and run off like the Prodigal Son, God never stops looking for us, watching, waiting for us to return. When the coin was missing, when the sheep was lost, when the son was gone, things were incomplete. When we are lost, somehow things are incomplete, so God seeks us out, looking for us, waiting for us, to welcome us back, because we matter.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 16, 2007