Those who edited the lectionary readings for the day chose to present the parable of the lost son and skip the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. This trilogy of parables is all found in Luke chapter 15. Reading the three together allows us to get a better sense of what Jesus is showing. There is great joy in finding what has been lost, there is great joy in being found! Maybe we can recall something or someone that had been lost and then found, or have we ever experienced a time where we have been lost or separated, have we experienced a time of reconciliation?
I was somewhere in the age range from about six to eight when I came to the realization that I was separated from my parents in the Enfield Mall. I believe it was close to Christmas and we were in the toy store. I must have become distracted by something interesting, and stayed to investigate, while my parents and sister continued on. At some point, I became aware of that fact. It did not take long for the anxiety and fear to rise within me and the tears to well up. I walked through a few isles with no success in finding my family and then I headed toward the entrance that led out into the main mall.
Before continuing on I remembered my mother telling me that if I ever got lost, that I was to stay where I was and she would find me. As I stood indecisively and wondering what to do, a woman noticed my predicament and led me to a stone bench outside the store. We sat and she stayed with me until my parents returned. I am sure the time of separation seemed a lot longer to me than the actual time, and much of the memory is fuzzy, but the anxiety of separation had an impact on me as did the relief and joy of reconciliation!
In my story as well as each of these parables, there is a great joy for that which has been lost and found. How many of us are not even aware of our separation from God or each other? While I was in my own world of material wonder, I was left behind. The son who had squandered every bit of the inheritance he asked of his father before his death, realized not so much that he had really messed up, but that he was in a dire situation, and he made the right decision to come back home. His father never stopped looking for him, he actually saw his son returning “while he was still a long way off” and “filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20).
This father is not seeking his son to bow before him and prove his repentance, his loyalty, and allegiance. The father runs to his son without hesitation. This act is no small thing, for an elder to run to a younger family member was unheard of and simply not done. He was breaking this social taboo, most likely to redirect the focus away from his returning son; the one who had betrayed his father, the son who would receive glares and snide remarks. Instead, the father rushed out in reckless abandonment of love to embrace his son. The jaw-dropping, followed by echoes of gossip surely rose in chorus about the father’s present actions, not his son’s past actions.
God is watching and waiting, seeking opportunities to run to us with compassion and love to welcome us home as the father did in the parable of the prodigal son. God is also like the shepherd who does the absurd in his outpouring act of love, leaving the ninety-nine sheep to go and find the one stray. God seeks each and every one of us just like that shepherd. God is represented by the woman who rejoices over finding one seemingly insignificant coin, for God rejoices in our turning back to him because not one of us is insignificant to him. We are all precious to God, each in our own unique way, and he loves us more than we can ever imagine.
No matter the reason that we have strayed, no matter the temptations and distractions we have fallen for, and/or how far we have wandered away, God loves us more than we can ever mess up. Lent is a season to open our eyes and recognize where we are in our relationship with God and with each other, to recognize the separation our choices have caused, and begin to turn back to God and those we are estranged from within our lives. There is indeed great joy in the healing of relationships and reconciliation! Lent is a time to be found, Lent is a time to come home.
Painting: Rembrandt’s – The Return of the Prodigal Son