The great author G.K. Chesterton said the following words: The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder. As Christians, we can sometimes fall into the danger of losing our wonder about the story of Christianity. We cease to marvel at the glory of a Father who goes to the extremes for us, and who unrelentingly, and passionately seeks us out. When we lose our sense of wonder about the story of Christ it becomes commonplace to us, and it loses its impact on our lives.
Sometimes, when Jesus wants to drive home a specific message, he gives us a “triple parable,” and this is what he does in today’s Gospel. It is the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. But these stories are not really about the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son, are they? They are really about the determined shepherd, the persevering woman, and the forgiving father. All three of these parables are about seeking, about finding, and about rejoicing. Each one of these parables is connected to the other; they must be understood together, not taken in isolation.
Imagine you are a shepherd man or woman; it is the end of your day, and you’re counting your sheep. You have one hundred sheep, which comprise your and your family’s entire patrimony, and you find that one is missing. It’s late in the day, and you know that a lost sheep might not make it to the morning. There are many dangers: wolves, steep canyons, thieves. Should you risk your own life looking for this one sheep in darkness? Or imagine you are a woman who has lost one of her wedding ring. You have lost your wedding ring, what if you never find it? What if you have lost this object of so much emotional and monetary value? Or imagine you are the father who gives his son his inheritance, who then leaves. It is not the inheritance that is the painful part, but the loss of your beloved child. What if your son never makes his way back? What if you never recover him? What if he is, indeed, lost forever?
The first two parables are really a preparation for the third. In the third parable we witness the bitterness and loneliness in which the son, by ways of his own decisions, finds himself. We are reminded too that, like this son, when we leave our Father’s embrace we are left drinking the bitter consequences of our loneliness, that leaving God carries in itself its own punishment. The Gospel says, “He longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any” (Lk 15:16). See his lost dignity? Not even the swine would respect this man in the state he was in. This parable approaches not only the story of Christianity, but also the story of ourselves, the story of our personal faith and journey in God, my own story. The Gospel says, “He came to his senses” (Lk 15:17). The lost son realized where he was; in the filth, carrying his lost dignity, he came to his senses. This is the story of our awakening, our conversion, and our journey back to our Father’s house.
Let us look at the second reading and see how Paul lives his story of Christ, of going back to the Father’s house. Paul says, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man… Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience (1 Tm 1:13,15). Paul recognizes his own sin. He recognizes that he is a persecutor, blasphemer and an arrogant man, and in recognizing these sins he “comes to his senses” and seeks salvation in Christ. We can easily believe that for us to “come to our senses” is a matter of circumstances. Conversion is not a matter of changing our circumstances, it is above all our hearts that must change, when they find a new and old wonder in our experience of forgiveness.
I would like to challenge you, as I challenge myself, to ask, “What are the sins that God has forgiven me?” If the second readings says that Christ came into the world to save sinners,” (1 Tim 1:15) how is it and in what way am I a sinner? What sins has God forgiven me? Because if I’m not a “sinner”, if I can’t articulate the sins that Christ has forgiven me, did Christ come to save me? Only when we find our need for mercy, for forgiveness, can we rediscover our story of salvation. It does require an act of courage and humility to say, like Paul, “God has forgiven my pride, or my selfishness, or my greed, that I may receive his goodness, and his mercy.” As in the Gospel, I am the prodigal, errant son returning to my father’s house. I have been forgiven. I have been saved so that Christ may have life in me. And the Father is waiting, looking at the horizon for signs of his son or daughter to return, waiting to run out and embrace you. When you take two steps toward the God, God runs to you! God is never more “God” than when he forgives. When we ask God for forgiveness we “allow” him to be God. When we recognize our sin, we allow Him to be the father who embraces his son, his daughter, once again. God is determined to find us, if we want to be found; but it all begins by “coming to our senses,” by recognizing where our decisions have taken us and the conditions in which they have left us.
Do you really want to be converted? Are you willing to be transformed? Or do you keep clutching your old ways of life with one hand while with the other you beg people to for help you change? Conversion is certainly not something you can bring about yourself. It is not a question of willpower. You have to trust the inner voice that shows the way. You know that inner voice. You turn to it often. But after you have heard with clarity what you are asked to do, you start raising questions, fabricating objections, and seeking everyone else’s opinion. Thus you become entangled in countless often contradictory thoughts, feelings, and ideas and lose touch with the God in you. And you end up dependent on all the people you have gathered around you. Only by attending constantly to the inner voice can you be converted to a new life of freedom and joy. (Nouwen).
This brings us to the joy aspect of the parables: the celebration, the exaltation, the rejoicing, the wine and the fattened calf, the heavenly banquet. This joy has already begun. Our being found by God, in our sins, is the source of our joy. You do not have to be perfect to be loved; you are loved because you are lost and then found. This is the great banquet that Christ gives us, and he left us signs of this reconciliation: the sign of his love on the cross, and the sign that he keeps reaching out to us through the Holy Eucharist.
Through the intercession of Mary may we remember the story of Christianity, and may we remember that it is our story, the story of my salvation, the story of a God who relentlessly and passionately seeks to find us and enjoy a banquet of celebration.
This post is also available in: Spanish