In the longer version of this week’s Gospel reading we hear all three of the parables of mercy from Luke. There is a common theme running through the parables — the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. Someone searches for an animal, a coin or a son who has been lost. It is obvious from the context of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ complaint that Jesus eats with and welcomes sinners to give a lesson concerning God’s desire to retrieve whoever is lost. God does not just wait for sinners to return, but actively seeks them by inviting them to return.
As many of us get older we might need to use reading glasses. It is a quite common experience to put the glasses down somewhere and forget where we placed them. Then the search begins. Where was I when I last used them? When did I remove them? Did I place them someplace where they would be safe? We do not rest until we have located them. Finally, we discover them in our shirt pocket. Once the glasses have been found there is a sense of satisfaction that they have been returned for my use.
The everyday example of lost reading glasses helps us understand the joy that the shepherd experiences when the lost sheep has been found. We sympathize with the woman who lost the coin. We, especially, rejoice with the father whose son had been lost, for they thought he had been dead. In each parable, pay attention to the one who searches.
Over and over Jesus tells those who criticize him for associating with tax collectors, sinners and all sorts of other unacceptable people, that he has come to save those who are lost. The redemption Jesus works out through his public ministry, passion, death and resurrection is precisely for the unacceptable persons in a society. Even God goes through the stages of seeking, finding and capturing what is lost. The emphasis in each of the parables should be placed on the one who is searching not on the thing or person who has been lost. If we do this, we realize that God actively seeks us out, and that is the true story of redemption. It is not by our own efforts but by the mercy of God that we gain salvation.
If we put the stress on God’s activity then we can say with Paul in the second reading, “I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief” and “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” We know that Paul, like the sheep, the coin and the son, was lost and mercifully treated “so that in me . . . Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.