I think there are many ways we can be lost: and I wonder about those who become lost through no fault of their own. Perhaps they’re lost because of another’s behaviour towards them, or, lost simply because they’ve chosen to be lost; or even lost because this is how the world wants them to be.
I wondered too, if the two parables in Luke (15:1-10) of the lost sheep and the lost coin, should rather be called ‘parables of finding’ – the ‘parable of the sheep that was found’, and the ‘parable of silver coin that was found’.
The 3rd story in Luke’s collection of being lost and found is the parable of the prodigal son, and again, perhaps it is rather a story of a loving and merciful father waiting and praying, hoping and searching, joyful for the son who no longer chooses to be lost. It matters where you want to start the journey of being lost and being found.
I have a dear friend who taught me something life changing about being lost. He grew up in Ghana, was lost on the streets for a while before making it to Australia. He studied and did well, he trained in childcare – really hard work for a young black man in a white racist country. Gender and racial discrimination were always present in his work and in his life. Later I asked him to take on managing our services for people living with disability. I did so because he was a man who knew what it was like to be lost and excluded because of other people’s ignorant and discriminatory behaviour for things simply beyond his control, like race, gender and ability.
One day I went to one of our community centres to participate in a gathering of young people with disabilities. One of the young people was in the corner of the room with his back to everyone. The staff left him alone saying, ‘oh, he never joins in, its best to leave him as he becomes angry’. I watched my friend quietly go over to the corner of the room and slide down the wall to sit beside the young man in gentle silence. Just being company. Eventually the two started talking and eventually, both joined the group without any drama.
I learned that day, out of God’s great love for us, God never imposes God’s presence or demands we join in. God never excludes us if we reject God’s invitation. There is no impatience or contempt. God waits patiently, lovingly, without pressure or coercion, for the person to want to be found. And when found, God’s joy is absolutely with the individual. This is not God’s triumphant shout of glory because of how great God is, but how great the individual is in choosing with such courage to believe and trust in God’s love. So I do think there’s ‘being found’ – and ‘being found’.
I think our God is the God of the Lost and the Found. The ‘finding’ is about love, not about demands, judgement, punishment, or might. Simply because God has been in our corner, our corner becomes the place where I can be with God as it becomes God’s corner with me.
Luke’s telling of the two stories focus on God’s mercy and endless love. As I read Luke’s gospel, I return to the idea of being lost because of the world’s response to me, and then being found by God. And simply because we are so loved, there could never be any other reaction by God except to come looking, waiting, praying, hoping and being so concerned about our brokenness God is ready to welcome us home when we ask.
I’m not sure if you are aware, but the use of numbered chapters and verses in our bible were only inserted into the texts in the 15th and 16th centuries. It means the breaks we find in our readings can be ignored on occasion to enable a different flow and grasp of the story and to read fresh insights.
Jesus tells these two parables of loss and finding after sharing dinner with some pharisees and lawyers breaking his journey towards Jerusalem and he has large crowds listening to him. As we journey with Jesus, we realise the large crowd included tax collectors and sinners listening closely beside us. In the meantime, the pharisees and scribes continued grumbling about Jesus’ poor taste in friends.
They certainly would not invite such people to their dinner parties, as Jesus had already commented. Their response was if Jesus wanted to be one of them he clearly needed to stop hanging out with the socially embarrassing. In criticizing Jesus for befriending the outcasts, they insisted he choose between them. Jesus’ three parables make it clear Jesus will not do as they wish. He wants to find the ones who are lost, rather than stay with the majority who are already safe.
Those who privilege their dignity and position in society at the expense of others are choosing to separate themselves from the outsiders for their own protection. They choose to be lost to God at this point, they do not want to be found by Jesus. Their chorus is one that sees Jesus’ hospitality to sinners as dangerous and unpleasant.
Jesus’ comprehensive inclusiveness is not exclusive enough for those who know their own worth and who do what it takes to maintain it, irrespective of the cost to others. We know, like Jesus, the cost of banishment to the wilderness for others is high.
It’s worth realising Luke’s Jesus never calls out or persecutes a sinner. Jesus never comments on the sinner’s behaviour. Instead, he consistently invites them to his table even though he is regularly criticized for doing so.
My final story is about an Aboriginal elder I heard speaking on the radio this week. He was talking about the daily racism he and his people experience and the deep, embedded trauma of their collective and individual experience of children being lost, being taken, being removed. The grief of parents and grandparents which could never be healed, the loss of the parent child loving relationship which was not of their doing, broken deliberately and brutally. The best of intentions crippling, abusing and killing people who were not like us, being outcast, rejected and deliberately lost by others. I was crying as I heard again the stories told of loss, being lost and not being found.
It is hard to reflect on being the one lost, but hard too, to think about being among the 99 who were left alone, or the older brother who apparently never got lost as he stayed home, but who I think was completely lost. Yet we are all in the family of Christ, whether we are among the 99 who were trusted and loved by God and trusting and loving God in response, or the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son who rejects all of this.
It is with God’s grace we joyfully accept God has been in our corner and God is always there; and now we too need to go and find those who are lost in dark corners. We can trust in God even in the world’s wilderness, and we are trusted by God to continue God’s work and not to let the wilderness occupy our hearts and minds to the exclusion of God and everyone else. We don’t need to respond like the elder brother or the pharisees and scribes, but we can be like the one who was lost and now is found, bringing great joy to God’s heart.
We give thanks and praise to the God of the lost and the found.
The Lord be with you.
Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Ed’s]. 2014. Feasting on the Gospels Luke Vol. 2. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Johnson, L.T. [Harrington, D.J., S.J., Ed.] 1991. Sacra Pagina Series Vol.3. The Gospel of Luke. A Michael Glazier Book. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
Rohr, R. 1997. The Good News According to Luke. A Crossroad Book, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.