"Oh, boy! I'm glad you're here," the little boy said to his grandmother on his mother's side. "Why?" she asked. "Because now Daddy will do the trick he's been promising us." "What trick?" "Well, he told Mommy that if you came to visit, he would climb the walls."
The Pharisees thought that the sinless should not mingle with the sinners. They thought that they have the monopoly of religion and that they could manipulate Jesus. And so, they asked our good Lord why he welcomes sinners and eats with them.
He told them three parables that portray the lost: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. In telling these stories, however, Jesus centers on its essential meaning, which is the generous and encompassing nature of God through the good shepherd, the persistent housekeeper and the prodigal Father.
We may think like the Pharisees and believe that we are the only children of God, Jesus tells us that God searches for us because we are lost in that mistaken belief. He is the Truth. We may think like the Pharisees and consider ourselves better and righteous than other people, Jesus tells us that God is seeking us because we are all lost. He is the Way. And we may think like the Pharisees and presume that we have Jesus on our side against the others, Jesus tells us that God is longing for us because we may be lost but we are not forgotten. He is the Life.
This is a good time for us to ask ourselves how we have been of help in seeking the lost, in searching for those who had been away, in forgiving those who had been wrong.
The answers to these questions may sometimes include our loved ones. Parents may say that their children do not go to Church anymore. Or that their spouse drinks too much, that their son is addicted to pornography, that their daughter is on a miserable relationship. Some of us may say that we have friends who had been unemployed and are feeling hopeless, or that we have friends who had been depressed and are feeling worthless.
How do we respond to the lost? How do we respond to the vacant recesses of our hearts? How do we respond to the empty spaces of our lives?
Faith and hope are the Christian virtues we need to remember. Our prayers and our belief that God will never abandon us are the Christian practices we need to consider. And our love, our prodigality, our understanding are the Christian examples we need to hold forever.
Unlike the sheep who strayed and the coin that was lost, there is a human element in the son who wronged his father. Forgiveness, letting go and forgetting could be one of the hardest things we could ever do.
When we do not forgive, we shrink our world by the number of persons we may have the opportunity to be Christ like. When we do not want to let go of the things that hurt us, we limit ourselves to the humanity of our nature.
There is a story about the Confederate General Robert E. Lee who went to visit a friend after the Civil War. Out in front of the mansion were the sad remains of a grand old magnolia tree whose limbs had been blown away by the artillery of the Union Army. Despite the passage of years, the lady of the house was still bitter and she wept angry tears as she showed Lee the scarred and blackened tree trunk. Then she paused, waiting expectantly for him to denounce those hated Yankees. The general was silent for awhile and then, looking at the tree, he said, “Cut it down, dear lady, and forget it!”
We need to pause, like that lady, and search our hearts. Why have we been bitter? Nothing good will come out of our lives if our hearts are still imprisoned by the darkness of our past. Nothing good will happen to us if we continually poison our souls by our unwillingness to forgive. Jesus said, “The measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” And, nothing better will ever take place unless we move on beyond our mistakes and failures.
We also need to be reminded, like what the General did, that we need to stop. Stop blaming people. Stop blaming yourself. Stop blaming God. “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing,” Jesus shouted in pain before he died. We are those who do not know what we are doing. We have asked for forgiveness, but sometimes we are not forgiving. We are lost sometimes, and somehow we do not want to be found.
God is continually searching for us in our hearts. God is continually hoping that we can love each other the way He loves us, that we can forgive each other the way He forgives us, that we can embrace and accept one another the way He embraces and accepts each one of us.
Perhaps you know what I am talking about. Perhaps your hearts can see what I am seeing. Perhaps you know what I mean. But if in case you do not know what I am saying, if in case you see it differently, if in case you do not know what I mean, just consider that this world will be different if we join in the search. Be a good shepherd. Be a persistent housekeeper. Be a prodigal father. Search for those who are different, but may actually be like us. Search for the law-observing, righteous Pharisees in our world. Search for the lost and the sinners in our midst.
That in our search we may fill the empty spaces of our lives. That in our search we may occupy the vacant recesses of our hearts. That with God in our search, we may find ourselves.
12 September 2010