Did any of you fly anywhere this summer and lose your luggage? I didn’t have the occasion to fly recently but I’ve lost my luggage a few times over the years and, as those of you who have had it happen to you know, it’s a very frustrating experience. Unfortunately, it seems to be even more prevalent now for a variety of reasons and reclaiming your luggage seems to get harder and harder.
It’s sad when anything – or anyone – is lost. And yet, it seems that there are millions of people in this world who are lost. There are so many people wandering around in a kind of moral or spiritual fog; they really don’t know where they’re going. Many of them claim to be Christians. They may be loving mothers and fathers, they may be responsible citizens, but they have a tremendous feeling of helplessness in the face of the shifting values of our rapidly changing culture.
But, this is nothing new – down through the ages, humanity has become lost. That’s why Jesus came and he understood the tragedy of being lost. Today, we hear Jesus present three parables: about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost young man. Jesus makes it clear in these parables that our being lost is of grave concern to the One who created us, and that there is a way by which that which is lost may be found; God wants to reclaim us.
Let’s consider for a moment our own feelings of being lost and ask three basic questions: First, how did we get there – how did we get to feeling lost? Second, does anybody really care? And third, is there way to get out of this fog? We often get in this predicament by following the lead of those around us. But, it’s too risky to simply follow the example of someone else; they may be just as lost as we are. When we are young, we may think our parents are perfect, but with maturity we realize that they have limitations as well. So, where do we turn? Some people look up to Hollywood stars or sports heroes or people in leadership positions. In our naiveté we imagine that people in leadership rarely do anything wrong. There was even a time when clever press agents and acquiescing journalists would hide the weaknesses of our best-known personalities – but no more. Now we see them, warts and all. We may be inspired by their acting ability or athletic prowess or their leadership acumen, but we are foolish to look to most famous people for moral or spiritual inspiration. Indeed, who do we look to? Even some of our Church leaders have demonstrated how lost they are as they preyed on innocent children and youth or hid this terrible crime. So many people in our world seem to be lost.
The great tragedy of our lives is that, along with our declining faith in people and institutions, there has been a corresponding decline in our faith in God. Even many of us who are faithful in going to church and who would fight to defend the major tenets of our faith have put some distance between ourselves and God. For some of us, the distance is due to the decline of following our intellect in favor of our emotions. We have been confused by the emotional outcries of some and have allowed our faith to be weakened by their loud complaints. For others of us the distance is very personal. Some of us have experienced disillusionment with God somewhere along the way. We turned to God in a moment of need and we experienced what everyone who is intent on finding God experiences at some time or another. We discovered God’s seeming silence. We forgot that God’s ways are not our ways; he is so far beyond our full comprehension. So, our faith in God became strained.
Or maybe it was someone in the Church who has hurt us. A thoughtless word, an inappropriate action. I wish that Church people were perfect. But, as Pope Francis reminds us over and over again, the Church is not only a refuge for saints; it is also a hospital for us sinners.
Or maybe we have distanced ourselves from God because it is too much bother to fit God into our busy lives. We think that we’ve found what we need in the toys and gadgets of the secular world. We’re here in church because this is where we have established ties with people who mean much to us, not because we have an ongoing and growing relationship with God.
So, that’s how we have gotten lost. The next question is – does anyone really care? And the answer is so clear in today’s Gospel. We are blessed to know that God cares. God is looking out for us – rejoicing like a shepherd over finding a lost sheep, rejoicing like a woman recovering a lost coin, rejoicing like a father over a lost son who has come back home!
God, who has made us simply to love us, cares. He really does care. You are the crowning work of His creation. You are His immortal masterpiece. What you make out of yourself and your world is of infinite importance to God. God wants to reclaim you, his lost child.
So, this brings us to our last question: How do we get out of the fog? How can the lost be found? Jesus provides us with these powerful parables to show us the way. Jesus gives us these parables to help us realize that we are important to God. What you do with your life really matters to Him. If it seems that there is more distance in your life between yourself and God, it is not God who has moved. His desire to rekindle His relationship with you is more intense than you can imagine.
Of course, we all understand that there is a difference between a lost sheep or a lost coin and a lost person. The prodigal son could not be found until he took responsibility for his own life. It was up to him. He was out there feeding pigs – which for a faithful Jew would be the ultimate humiliation. To the observant Jew, pigs are unclean not only physically but religiously as well. Until this young man was willing to take responsibility for living in the pigpen, and then make the decision to leave it, he remained lost. Once he decided to return to his father, however, he was on the way to being reclaimed; his father was on the lookout for him.
We can overcome our sense of being lost by a simple decision. That decision is simply to believe the good news that we hear today. As we hear in today’s gospel, as well as the first reading about the people at Mount Sinai and the second reading about St. Paul, there really is a loving God who cares deeply about each of us. It really does matter what you do with your life. You can trust what you have learned as you learned about God.
There is a divine hand with nail prints in it that reaches out to each of us every day. It is a hand that shows the deep love of God, our heavenly Father. We don’t have to wander through life as one who is lost. God is with us if we will only reach out to Him, just as the young man reached out to his father in today’s Gospel.
A father was out walking with his young son. “How far are we from home?” he asked his son. The boy answered, “I don’t know, Dad.” The father then asked, “Well, where are you?” Again the boy answered, “I don’t know.” Then the father said with a chuckle, “It sounds to me as if you are lost.” The young boy looked up at his father and said, “Nope, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.” Ultimately, that’s the answer to those of us who are feeling lost. We can’t be lost if God, our heavenly Father, is with us. Let’s make sure we never wander away from him and, if we have, let’s turn back to him; he is so eager to hold us in his loving arms.