This Sunday is one of those occasions when the Second Reading, Paul’s letter to Timothy, coincides well with the Gospel.
St Paul, in his letter to Timothy, is speaking of his past – as someone who blasphemed against Jesus and against God and as someone who did all they could to destroy the Christian Faith. Whilst acknowledging his own sinfulness, St Paul does not dwell on it but goes on to show how he is an example of God’s great love – and mercy – and patience at work. As St Paul says, if God chooses to do that for me – then what does that mean for you? If I, says Paul, can be forgiven so much, it can only be because Jesus wanted to use me as evidence to the many people who would come to trust in Him for eternal life.
So, what does it say to us? Every one of us could probably think of something that we had done – or said – or been, that we would think was unforgivable. We can’t forgive ourselves – and certainly can’t believe that God would want to. We may even have got so used to the burden of guilt that we carry around that, in a funny kind of way, we are a bit afraid to let it go. Can I really let it go – or will God drop it back on me from a great height – and tell everyone what I did?
Often, we can’t put our fears into words – but the bottom line is – we can’t believe that God wants to free us from our sin. This is not so. God wants us to blossom and grow into a good disciple – and we can’t do that with a ten-ton burden of guilt on top of us! Like the God in the Gospel – He is a God of justice – but also of infinite mercy.
St Paul says today “Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”.
He sees himself as the greatest of these – and still can have confidence that he has been completely forgiven. Freed from the burden of guilt and shame, Paul was able to go into the world to proclaim the Good News. He was a living example of the Good News – that the death and resurrection of Jesus really could change people’s lives.
When Jesus sent His disciples out into the world, He told them not to carry excess baggage. For many of us, sin and guilt for sins long since forgiven can be excess baggage.
If this is the case, I ask you to read today’s Gospel again – think about what Jesus and St Paul say about why Jesus came into the world. Allow Jesus to lift the burden from your shoulders so that you can go out into the world – confident that you too are a living example of the love and mercy of our God. Remember the saying a problem shared a problem is a problem halved, Share yours with God today.
The “Lost and Found” stories that make up today’s Gospel are very well-known and, again, we can be tempted to switch off, but there is always something new to be found in scripture stories – so let’s look afresh at the two stories before us. We have all, I am sure, lost something, not necessarily precious or valuable and we search and search until it is found. The worst was, when the children were younger, if a toy went missing, well the house was turned upside down, it took over my life until it was located. You cannot and do not think of anything else. It’s as if the world stops just for that toy. As I write this reflection today, I have lost a pen, not valuable or precious but it was a lovely writer, it will turn up in a bag or something I am sure. I will keep looking.
In our first parable, Jesus uses the image of God as a shepherd. It is God, as the shepherd, who first of all notices that a sheep has gone missing. Out of a hundred sheep before Him – God sees that one isn’t there. Rather than deciding that the sheep has got itself lost and must suffer the consequences, God sets off to find it and bring it home – rejoicing as He does.
Then, we have the image of a woman searching for a coin. We have all experienced that sinking feeling when we have lost money or a credit card – something of value. We also know what it is like to turn the house upside down until we find it – going back over “when did I last see it?” And then, hopefully, the moment when we do find it – the relief and pleasure we feel. You cannot explain it! And, says Jesus, this is how God feels when He finds us – we get ourselves lost and God pulls out all the stops to find us – and feels the same kind of relief and joy that we feel when we have found something we treasure.
All I can say here is that many years ago I was lost, stumbling blindly in the darkness, a deep black hole was all I could see, and, in my need, Jesus found me and brought me safely home, back into this fold. He knew what I needed; He knew the plan He had for me then. All I had to do was leave the rest to Him.
Further on in this gospel the parables end with the “Prodigal Son” but that is for another week, not today. That also ends in rejoicing just like the sheep and lost coin parables.
At the very start of our Gospel, Luke tells us that it is the sinners and tax collectors who are coming to listen to Jesus, and the Pharisees are muttering and grumbling about this to one another. But Jesus looked at the people, and his heart went out to those who were lost. And so, he said to those listening, ‘What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? Or what farmer, having lost a sheep, does not leave the others and search high and low until he rescues it?’
I say to you, what woman, having lost her car keys, does not search the whole house, turning even the furniture upside-down until she finds those keys? Or what man, having lost the TV remote control, doesn’t shove his hand down the back of every armchair, every sofa, into the fluff and the grime and the old biscuit crumbs and rotting apple cores, until he finds and retrieves the precious thing?
In these stories, Jesus is showing us the height and depth and length and breadth of God’s love for us. God will search us out – come looking for us, searching high and low for those who are lost, and for those who have lost hope, purpose, meaning and direction, as I had. And when God has found us in the depths of our despair and spoken to our hearts saying “come back to Me” – He gives us the strength to turn around and come back – and is there ready and waiting to greet us and bring us home.
And so, next time you find yourself hunting high and low, for coins, or sheep, or keys, or TV remotes, let it be a reminder, that the Son of God is looking too, searching for those who need rescuing. The parables show God as a Searching Father, looking for the lost, actively seeking them, and rejoicing when they are found. An essential part of God’s character is about extending mercy to the undeserving; God not only forgives but comes looking for us seeking us out with infinite patience, a God who picks us up and carries us on his shoulders, exulting in our return and gently restoring us to the fold.
But would God even consider wasting time on people like us? – I hear you ask. It’s a staggering idea, isn’t it, hard to accept; but that is what Jesus is saying, that is what happened to me, each one of us is not just worth something, but is special, is precious in the eyes of God, important enough for him to go on looking for us day after day until His search is finally rewarded. The way Jesus continually reaches out, doesn’t give up on us or anyone else for that matter, all lives matter to Him. Maybe, just maybe, it could be true!
If we had time, I would play you the song “You Raise me Up”. Which explains how God lifts you up when you are troubled to even more than you could imagine. If you have it take time to listen to the words once more.
I finish with a prayer by Nick Fawcett:
Lord Jesus Christ, it is wonderful enough when we were lost you came and found us; it is more wonderful that you continue still to seek us out when we go astray again, that you go on looking for us, day after day, year after year, as long as it takes, as often as is needed. No matter who we are or what we may have done, still we matter to you, enough for you never to rest until we are restored to your side. Teach us to recognise the astonishing breadth of your love, and to respond with gratitude in faithful service and joyful praise. In your name we pray. Amen