September 12, 2010
Luke 15: 1 – 32
When I was in the second year of my seminary formation I was assigned to field education at St. Brendan’s Parish in North Olmsted. My supervisor at the time was the Pastor, John Kenney. John Kenney was Irish and he was proud of it. He was also warm, witty, and wise. I learned a great deal that year shadowing him during his pastoral duties. But in some ways the most significant thing I learned was in the first week that I was at the parish. During a social parish function a concerned mother ran up to Father Kenney and began to unload. “Fr. Kenney I am so glad I ran into you. I am worried about my son Matt. I think he has lost his faith. Now we did everything that we could. We sent to Matt to Catholic schools. We went to church as a family. We prayed at home. But once he graduated high school and went into college, his faith was gone. He will not go to church with us now, and he will not even speak about anything religious. Father, I love my son and I do not know what else to do. I just want him to find God.”
Fr. Kenney sighed deeply. You could tell that he identified with the woman’s pain. Then he said, “Linda, you’ve done everything that you could. Matt now is an adult, and he will have to make his own decisions. But don’t give up hope. Give it time, and never forget this. Matt might have no desire to find God, but God has a burning desire to find Matt.”
Those words of John Kenney were true wisdom and true faith. We do not believe in a God who sits back and waits for us to come. We believe in a God who is active, who reaches out to seek and find us. That is what the two small parables in today’s Gospel are telling us. Like a shepherd who searches for a lost sheep or a woman who searches for a lost coin, our God is active, searching for us, finding us, and bringing us to life and to joy.
The parable of the woman and the coin is very helpful here. It is a strange parable. What is it about this woman and the coin? The text says the coin is a dracma. This was a small little silver coin. It was not worth much. You could not buy much with it. Yet this woman lights a lamp and sweeps her house to find this little coin. How can we explain her desire to find it? One way is by realizing that there was at the time of Jesus a custom in Palestine that a woman on her wedding day would wear a special headdress on which silver coins had been attached. Those coins then became a symbol of the love and commitment of her marriage – much like a wedding ring is for us today. So if we imagine that the woman’s lost coin is one of her wedding coins, the parable teaches us an important lesson. The woman is so anxious to find that coin, not because of its monetary value—that was small. She searches for the coin because of what that coin meant to her. That coin was a part of her marriage and a part of her life.
The parable tells us that God is like the woman in the parable. God is committed to find us, not because we are so holy or perfect or successful but because we mean so much to God. God has freely chosen us to be daughters and sons. This truth is good news for us. It means that there is nothing that we can do to stop God from saving us. God reaches out to find us not because of our love for God but because of God’s love for us.
We can be embarrassed and discouraged by the sins that we have committed, by the failures and mistakes that we have made. But none of those sins or failures will stop God from reaching out and drawing us close. We might be lost in depression or in addiction to alcohol or pornography. We might be caught in a hurtful relationship that is consuming us alive, and we might not ever think of God or pray to ask for help. But that will not stop God for coming towards us like a shepherd looking for a lost sheep, determined to bring us home. We might be worried about a son or a daughter, a family member or a friend who is miserable and seems to have no faith from which to draw strength. But we believe that even as the person we love is caught in that paralyzed and painful state, God is already acting, searching like a woman searching for a lost coin because that coin has value for her.
Now of course it is always better if we welcome God’s approach, if we know our need, if we ask for God’s help. God’s coming to us is much easier whenever we are open to it. But even if our hearts are closed, even if selfishness has blinded us, even if we are lost and we do not even realize we are lost, God still wants to seek us out and find us. And what God wants, God usually gets.