“Beloved, I am grateful to him who has strengthen me, Christ Jesus, our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry.” Timothy 1:12-17
Paul’s letter to his friend Timothy tells us of Jesus’s patience as an example for those who would believe in him. So too, Luke’s Gospel tells us of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and how we must draw on God’s steadfast patience with us. Moses’s words from today’s Book of Exodus makes a similar point.
These images of the lost and found are signs of God’s forgiveness, mercy, and hope for second chances.
Let’s consider the lost and found, and later how we might draw on this strength for healing and restorative mercy.
We’ve all been there – something’s missing, whether it’s lost keys, sunglasses, or my cell phone. It can be annoying. It can be time-consuming — to be locked out of the house, or driving without sun protection or worst of all the lost cell phone, the contents of which have not been backed up. You get the idea!
So in these cases, our Catholic tradition has called on practical prayers and saints who come to our rescue. For example, Saint Anthony of Padua’s precious book with his lecture notes went missing. The wayward culprit, probably one of his students, had a nightmarish vision of his lousy deed and returned the stolen book to the saint. For this reason, Saint Anthony has become the patron of lost items.
In trying situations, there are prayers to Saint Anthony to intercede for us. One of which goes: “Tony, Tony, look around something’s lost and must be found!”
Of course, cellphones, sunglasses, and keys can be replaced. What about those losses that have no easy fix?
Today’s gospel passage tells of Jesus’s encounter with the Pharisees and scribes where the Lord uses examples of the shepherd and the lost sheep, and the woman and her lost coin. But there is an underlying purpose.
Examples of persistence and patience are a mirror into the God who is persistent and patient with us even when we are lost. However, far, we find ourselves because God is on our side!
About Luke 15, this point is worth mentioning. The passage continues with the line, “Then, he said: “A man had two sons.”
Of course, this is the introduction to the prodigal son parable that only appears in Luke’s gospel. Perhaps this is the most treasured story in the New Testament. We read this gospel parable back on March 31, the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
All three cases underscore Jesus’s message of a loving God with a divine obsession of restoring people to new life and wholeness.
There are more clues about the meaning of this text. For the shepherd to leave the ninety-nine to find the missing lamb or the women not satisfied with nine coins to search for the tenth coin had to do with a curious incompleteness. For those living in these ancient times, there is something that would be off-center or unfulfilled. In the case of the lost son, a member of the family was missing who might not ever be found, and clearly, this young man should not be abandoned.
These anxieties are genuine. We hear stories of searches for missing hikers or a lost child resulting in highway signs warning of an “Amber Alert!” This past week, I was driving north on Route 101 through the city of Gilroy. The recent shooting at the Garlic Festival prompted signs: “Gilroy Strong!” Too many signs around our country share these sentiments of concern: “El Paso Strong!” or “Boston Strong!”
Modern or ancient, these are deeply rooted fears that affect the fabric of our lives, so shattered by gun violence, endless wars, addiction to opioid drugs or alcohol, or the destructive force of Dorian-like hurricanes?
No one simple or effective prayer comes to mind. If that were the case, we would need a motherload of prayers and many more miracles!
In this case, let’s take the gospel at its word. We reach out to a God, in the words of Saint Paul, “I am grateful to him who has strengthened me because he has considered me trustworthy.”
May we realize our real capacity, and yes, our ministry of mercy and persistence, and the power to overcome compassion fatigue even in this “achy-breaky world.”
Then, the cleaning up may begin, and the restoration may permit those who have lost so much to slowly, patiently and prayerfully re-imagine their own lives.
Healed by a God who is a shepherd to lost souls, together, let’s embrace the joyful moments of the gospel with our loving father who hears our every prayer.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.