The Lost and found: the place where we dump those lost items. Sometimes people reclaim their lost items and sometimes they don’t reclaim them. And most of the time when the lost items just sit around, either they are given away or people throw them out.
It is also the place where we can find God.
In the words of Milwaukee bishop, Richard Sklba, “parables tell us more about God than about ourselves.” Today, Jesus wants the scribes and the Pharisees, and, us, to learn something about God. In her commentary on today’s scriptures, Sister Verna speaks about the character of shepherds in first century Palestine. They were thieves, ritually unclean, rejected by the upper class and outcasts. So, since we can find God in the lost and found, Jesus uses the image of the shepherd as a model of God’s “inexhaustible mercy.” Sister Verna also tells us that shepherding is also a “communal event.” When a shepherd goes looking for the lost, he needs the assistance of the others to watch the ninety-nine. Not only do we find God in the lost and found, but also God needs you and me to assist.
“What [person] among you…?” Jesus asks. “What [shepherd] among you goes looking for the lost?” “What woman among you puts on an apron and picks up a broom?” That lost coin is important. It is probably one day’s wages. It could have fallen from her headdress as a dowry before her wedding. Wherever the coin was, Jesus makes a profound point by using the image of a woman sweeping and searching as a model of God’s “inexhaustible mercy.” Notice that her joy becomes a communal event: “…she calls together her friends and neighbors…” for a banquet. God’s compassion is not only inexhaustible. It is also extravagant.
I wonder how many of us would look in the lost and found for God. The people of the Exodus story struggled so much with the image of God that they gave up and fashioned a golden calf. “Other people have molten images, why can’t we create our own gods?” That is probably why we will not find the presence of the Divine in the lost and found.
If you are old enough, you probably remember where you were fifteen years ago today, on 9-11. We cannot forget the images, the videos, the pictures, the pain and the horror of that time. And God? God was doing what God does best. We found the presence of the Divine in the responders, the helpers, those searching for loved ones, those who responded to the call of the Coast Guard to dock their boats at Manhattan to rescue hundred of thousands of people trapped at the southern end. We found God in churches, hospitals, in the streets and off the streets. And yes, the presence of God could be found in the hearts and lives of those who planned and carried out those horrible deeds. But the molten images they built for themselves muddled their minds, their hearts and their images of the One True God.
In the words of St. Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” He considered himself the greatest of sinners. We too join him as sinners. Yet, God still bids us to arise and approach the table of his Word and the table of his body and blood. That is what we call mercy because we will always find Jesus in the lost and found.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
24th Sunday Ordinary Time