Thursday, July 28, 2005

Lost and Found

Lost sheep. Lost coin. Lost son. The fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke is the Bible’s “lost and found” department. Happily, everything that is lost in this chapter is eventually found.

lost is a metaphor for being in sin, separated from God and from the righteous. Thus the sheep that wanders away from the flock is lost, the coin that has disappeared is lost, the son who leaves home for a dissolute life is lost. But what rejoicing there is in heaven when what was lost is found! Jesus says something quite startling about this: “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk 15:7). This will have its application in the parable of the Prodigal Son, over whom there is more rejoicing than over his less troublesome and “righteous” brother (who, however, still was in need of some repentance).

As Joni Mitchell would say, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” In English translation, that means that we rarely (or insufficiently) appreciate what we have while we have it, and only realize how precious it was when we no longer have it. Such was the case with the father of the prodigal son. We can tell, by the words of the elder son, that the father more or less took his sons for granted, although it’s also clear that they were well provided for. The departure of the younger son was a shock, a loss, a bereavement, for the father didn’t know if he’d ever come back. When he did return, it was like finding something precious that was lost, even like resurrection from the dead: “this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Now our heavenly Father lovingly provides for us, though we can’t say that He takes us for granted. But we can perhaps say that his concern for us increases when He sees us straying, when we become lost through our sin and heedlessness. Therefore we can say that He is more concerned about the lost sheep or children than about the faithful ones who are already doing his will and who will be generously rewarded for so doing. (One gives more attention to a sick child than to a healthy one who doesn’t need it.) But when the lost ones return—then you will see the rejoicing begin! It’s not only God but even the angels, Jesus says, who will be celebrating the return of the repentant sinner. There is so much happiness in heaven because they know how much horror there is in hell. They know how urgently important it is (for his own sake) that the lost sheep return quickly to the arms of the Good Shepherd, who will carry him home to the Father.

Repentance is an important theme in the New Testament. The words “repent” and “repentance” show up about 60 times, but the theme or concept of the change of heart and life that repentance indicates is found almost everywhere in the Bible. “Lost and found” refers to sin and repentance. Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk 19:10), which means he came to “call sinners to repentance” (Lk 5:32). Repentant sinners tend to be humbler than the righteous; they tend to be more grateful and to love more ardently, for they know how far they have fallen, they know from what they have been mercifully saved. The one who is forgiven much, loves much (see Lk 7:36-50).

Let us pray for those who are still “lost,” that they may be “found,” that the grace of repentance will be granted, especially to the worst of sinners, those who have wandered farthest from the Father’s house. And let us rejoice, not only over the returning sons and daughters, but let us be grateful ourselves, for I can probably safely say that you who are reading this were once dead and are alive again; you were lost and now are found. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his merciful love endures forever!