After reflecting on our Gospel passage for today, I recalled a sweet children’s story titled The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown. “Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.” So begins the tale of Bunny’s imaginary game of hide and seek, and the lovingly steadfast mother who finds him every time.
Luke gives us the story of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Before Jesus even begins speaking, the Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling because Jesus is hanging out with and even eating with the outcasts and sinners. Jesus ignores that and challenges them with a parable. Wouldn’t you having 100 sheep and losing one of them leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one lost sheep until he finds it? Or what woman having ten coins if she loses one searches her whole house until she finds it/
Now remember this is a parable, a story that contains a truth. So is the story about something lost or something found?
There is a tradition of saying a prayer to St. Anthony when something is lost that must be found. St. Anthony of Padua is believed to be the patron saint of lost things. The 13thcentury holy man left a wealthy family to become a poor priest. As the legend goes Anthony had a book of psalms that in his eyes was priceless. There was no printing press yet so every book had value. This was his book of psalms, his prayer book. Besides, in the margins he’d written all kinds of notes to teach his students in his Franciscan order.
A novice who had tired of the religious life decided to leave the community and he took Anthony’s Psalter. When Anthony returned to his room to pray and the book missing, Anthony prayed it would be found and returned to him. After he prayed this prayer, the thieving novice fleeing through the forest was met by a demon. (The story gets a bit murky here.) Anyway, the demon told the thief to return the Psalter to Anthony and to return to the Franciscan Order. He did and was accepted back.
Soon after Anthony’s death people began praying through him to recover lost articles. A prayer to Christ was written to honor St. Anthony:
“The sea obeys and fetters break,
And shattered hopes limbs thou does restore,
Which treasures lost are found again,
When young and old thine aid implore.”
Frederick Buechner says, “The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. That surely is true in today’s Gospel, for it begins with the problem of lostness--losing a sheep, losing a coin, then comes the Good News for the sheep is found as is the coin.
Of course, the sheep is unable to find its way home; the only way it can get back to where it belongs is if the shepherd comes after it. That coin might have just in the corner of the house collecting dust had not the woman swept the entire house until she found it.
These stories before us speak the certain truth that it is God’s action that saves, it is not our own doing. Like the sheep and coin haven’t we been lost at some time? If you’ve ever experienced a time of deep depression you know the sense of being lost and not being able to find the way home. Surely all of us have been lost from time to time and by God’s grace we are found over and over again.
Can you recall being lost in such a way that the only way you could be found was by someone else’s action? The shepherd and the woman in these stories call forth the image of a God who not only actively seeks out individuals who are lost but also rejoices when they are found. This God illustrates the overwhelming abundance of his love and forgiveness in seeking the lost and welcoming them back.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” assures us of God’s loving care. But we are not to be passive observers in this story. Jesus gives us the model of servanthood. We are to be good shepherds to others, we are to welcome the lost and lonely. We are to feed the poor and visit the sick. And there will be joy in the presence of the angels of God. Amen