Luke 15:1-32, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are three fractions in the Gospel today. One out of 99 sheep is lost (one percent); one out of ten coins is missing (ten percent); and one of two sons goes rogue (50%).
How much lost, how much found are you? I think no one here in their right mind will say they are 100% found. I hope not. To say 100% found is to be perfect, flawless, to be in heaven. Even the Pharisees and scribes, who had a low benchmark of perfection based on following religious rules, would not admit to being 100% found. If you are 100% found, you are not earthbound. If you are 100% found, you are somehow lost.
On the other hand, no one will say they are 100% lost either. I hope not. If they say so, their emotions may be getting the better of them. Paul who hunted down Christians for sport may admit to being the greatest sinner (his own words in the second reading), but he was not 100% lost. The truly lost ones do not even know they are lost. To admit you are completely lost is to begin your being found. Ask the prodigal son who was lost in the mire when he came to his senses.
So how much lost, how much found are you these days? Actually the point is not the portion of parts lost and found in you. As the Gospel today tells us, whatever the fraction lost, heaven rejoices with one or ten or 50 percent found. Heaven celebrates with every turn around, every repentance and confessing of lostness, every conversion and coming to our senses.
“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” I can imagine all sorts of joy in heaven, but the one joy that seems to really light them up over there is our repentance.
And so today we will pray for repentance. We will pray to repent of that portion in us that is wayward and obstinate. We will pray to be found, to come to our senses, so we can turn around and come home.
That means, first of all, appreciating what is already found, the portion that is not lost, graces that have not been lost on us. That means being grateful for gifts we still have, gifts we hold which we could lose anytime: life, love, friends, family, community, mission; the 90 or 50 or 10 percent that keeps us from losing our way, the portion we cherish that still gives sense to our lives.
Second, from the heart, we will ask for forgiveness. We will ask to be forgiven for the loss, the pain, the injustice we have caused others. Despite all the reasons we can muster to justify ourselves, we will work hard to examine that fraction in us that is to blame. Then we will be patient enough to wait to be forgiven. After all, forgiveness is conditioned by time and contrition.
Third and last, when we ask to be forgiven, we will also learn to forgive. Forgiving someone who has hurt us is never easy. It helps to know that we who struggle to condone a debt are likewise indebted. We might begin to forgive when we believe ourselves to have been forgiven. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. The reciprocal of mercy is mercy.
In the first reading, when God is so incensed by Israel’s rebellion and depravity, we know God relents eventually when Moses reminds him of his promise of love and mercy. Today Jesus reminds us that the God who relents is the shepherd and the woman and the father who rejoice over the one or ten or 50 percent that is found. No matter the portion, God is the one who seeks us, the one who keeps vigil through the night, the one who waits for our return.
Let us then be empty enough to come to our senses. Let us be earthbound enough to relent and offer repentance.