Lectionary Text for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday, 15 September 2019
Very recently I needed some documentary evidence to complete an application I was making. Actually, I needed two documents, but I could find neither, and to replace them both was going to cost me an amount of money I just couldn’t afford. So a set aside a full Saturday to hunt them down. I searched the storage in the eaves of our home, in the roofspace, even in the garage. I opened boxes and filing cabinets; I contorted my body into all sorts of shapes in dark spaces.
But by lunchtime I was beaten. There was simply no trace. And I was angry at myself, and a little embarrassed, even ashamed. I could find all sorts of useless stuff, but not the documents I needed, so I had to spend money to get duplicates.
Losing important things that I’m responsible for keeping safe is not a good. It alerted me to my carelessness, my slackness and lack of due care and diligence. It showed me how foolish I can be.
It also makes me wonder about these two stories in Luke’s Gospel. In both cases someone in a position of responsibility loses something that they are charged with keeping safe. In one, the shepherd loses a sheep, and a woman loses a coin, which may have been a part of her dowry, or that of her daughter.
The first story of the shepherd recalls Eze 34:1-6 and the careless, heedless shepherds of Israel. They don’t take care of the flock while they indulge themselves. They have no concern for the injured or weak members of their flock; they are abusive and neglectful of those in their care; and when the sheep get lost or scattered no-one searches for them.
The occasion for the telling of this story is the grumbling of the religious leaders, reminiscent of the grumbling of the people against Moses in Exo 15-17. Jesus response to their grumbling about his dining with ‘sinners’ is to raise a question about the role of shepherds of the flock of Israel, and he does so by telling these two stories.
In doing so he raises questions about the proper response to lostness, and the occurrence of a party in both stories is perhaps telling.
In the light of my very recent experience of losing something I should never have lost I find myself wondering about these parties that the shepherd and the woman throw for their neighbours. Why would they throw a party? It is surely not because the sheep or the coin have seen the error of their ways and returned to the sheepfold or the purse. (in what sense therefore is the ‘application’ of these parables applicable? Where in these stories is there repentance?)
It might be that the party is thrown because of the relief of the shepherd and the woman. They are culpable for the lostness; theirs is the shame for having fallen down on their duties. This culpability perhaps also explains the recklessness and urgency of the searches they conduct.
It is because of the finding that the shepherd is able to ‘come home.’
These stories ask us to examine ourselves and our possible culpability for lost things in our lives. Lost relationships. Lost hopes and aspirations? Lost innocence? They also challenge us as to the lengths we are prepared to go to find restoration. The exuberance of the party is perhaps related to the burden felt for the lost thing and the urgency of the search.
But the stories also alert us to the tendency that may be in us to blame the lost thing for its lostness, and therefore to be like the bad shepherd who grumbles because something or someone is lost, and who spread the blame for that lostness everywhere else other than where it should lie—with the one who was charged with keeping it safe in the first place.
Take a moment to reflect on the last time you can recall having lost or misplaced something of value. What was it? When did you notice it was missing? How did that feel? What emotions were stirred in the search? If it was found, how did the world change?
Having rested with these questions for a time, what effect has this reflection had on your understanding of God?
God of all lost things,
If it is your will to lead us on such difficult
paths, then we implore you, send us at least
during these days and hours the Holy Spirit
of faithfulness, steadfastness and perseverance,
so that we can go forward in blind confidence,
holding to the resolutions which we chose when
your light showed us the path and your joy
enlarged our hearts. Yes, in the midst of such
loneliness give us a spirit of courage and
Give us the unconditional confidence to know
that even in these times of loneliness we are not
forsaken by your grace, that indiscerned you are
with us. Give us a spirit which faithfully recalls the
past and your loving visitations; a spirit which
looks forward to the tangible proofs of your love,
that will come again.
When you grant us your comfort, let there come
with it a spirit of humility and of readiness to
serve you even when we are unconsoled.
(from Karl Rahner’s “Prayers for Meditation”)