September 15; 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year C

24th OT2I once was lost but now I'm found

Perhaps, one of Christianity’s best loved hymns and top ten choices for funerals is Amazing Grace. There is one particular line in this hymn that resonates with our readings today, “I once was lost but now I’m found.” In fact, the words of the hymn were a summary of the life of John Newton, the man who wrote those beautiful lyrics. Many would find his choice of wording strange and inappropriate. “Lost” is often regarded as an empty and hopeless word when used in reference to things or to animals, but it’s especially bleak when referring to people.

In one sense, the hymn declares that “lostness” is not just the condition of the author of the hymn, but also endemic to humanity, since Adam and Eve lost their way in the garden. Since then, the story of grace is the story of God’s relentless pursuit of the lost and wayward children. Lostness has many faces and creates many detours in our life. We are all lost. The Bible is full of stories of people lost and then found. The children of Israel were lost in Egypt until God found them. But even on their track to the Promised Land, this condition continued to plague them – they were lost in the wilderness for forty years; apparently Moses needed a compass more than a staff. And having finally found their way to the Promised Land, the new home which God had prepared for them, the Israelites, ironically, could even get lost here. Exile after exile, Israel continues to spend more time lost than found.

Getting lost does not seem too difficult for us to do. What does it mean to be “lost”? “Lostness” can be a deliberate choice but more than likely it is incidental to the human condition. We don’t mean to do it but we can’t help ourselves. We get lost in relationships, in our careers, in our life, in our faith, and some of the ways we get lost have not even been invented yet. It all begins because we think we know the way. “Me, lost? Of course not.” Being lost seems inevitable as it is often accompanied by personal pride which refuses to admit that one is lost and thus do not see the need to ask for directions or assistance. Maybe getting lost is natural because since Adam and Eve, pride has been man’s perennial condition. That is why the most common cause for getting “lost” without people even realising it, is “sin.” Sin always takes you farther than you want to go, keeps you longer than you want to stay, and costs you more than you want to pay. And, the most insidious power of sin is that it blinds you to its destructive effects.

But the good news is that we are not condemned to a perpetual condition of being lost, but we now have an opportunity to be found. The paradox of this is that we must recognise we are lost before we can allow ourselves to be found. Repentance is always the first step to being found. Unrepentant sinners remain lost until they realise that God has already found them. The Bible gives us this consoling picture of a God who is not contented with us staying lost. After the Fall, and Adam and Eve’s exile from Paradise, God did not condemn them to stay lost – He didn’t say, “Get lost” and “Don’t come back!” In fact, the whole of salvation history testifies to this amazing truth that God would not want us to be lost. On the contrary, He wants us to be found.

Lots of young people often protest against what they believe to be parental nagging and control: “Mom give me some space I’ve got to find myself.” We hear that a lot these days. The problem is that most people remain lost even when they’ve grown out of adolescence. They still can’t find themselves even after having attempted to reinvent themselves over and over again. The result is that people use this as an excuse to live any way they please. But the truth is that it is hard to find ourselves, in fact, it is impossible. As much as we want to find ourselves, our Lord had to find us. Being found is not so much as us stumbling into God, as it is God pursuing us.

This is where St Luke comes in with three wonderful parables of lost and found. I’ve decided to read the shorter version which omits the third parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ve already considered the story of the Prodigal Son on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The focus of each of these stories, the real protagonist, is not the lost sheep, the lost coin, or the lost son. Yes the sheep that wanders, the piece of silver that is lost, and the prodigal son who wastes his inheritance in riotous living makes good story-telling. But no, these are not the real protagonists of the three tales. The clue to understanding these parables is not that they are about losing something or someone, but all three parables are about finding. The parables would be pointless and each ending would remain a cliff-hanger if the shepherd did not go in search of the lost sheep in the wilderness until he found it, the woman did not sweep the house until she recovered it, and the forgiving father did not keep vigil, watching for his son’s return, and until he finally embraced him. Each of these three characters point to the real hero, which is and can only be God. It is He who takes the initiative, not us, the lost ones.

Yes, if “lostness” is facing our inadequacies, then being found is coming face to face with God’s sufficiency. We would always remain lost as long as we depend on ourselves. Trusting ourselves is a prescription for being lost. Only God can find us. You can be found but you just can’t find yourself, you just need to allow yourself to be found by God.

Getting lost is natural being found is supernatural. If you are saved, you know that it is not because you sought after God, but because God sought after you and kept seeking until He rescued you from your sin. He has, and He will continue to pursue you to the ends of the earth, the deepest depths of the ocean, the furthest corners of the universe. There is no place where you can hide from Him. There is effort and intentionality with God seeking us out; for the shepherd explores until He finds the sheep, the woman searches carefully until she recovers her coin, and the father waits until his son returns. This is the heart of the gospel – God goes to great lengths, sending us His Son, the eternal Word into our world in the flesh in order to seek us and save us. And finally, our Lord Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins so that our “lostness” may be exchanged with “foundness.” As Luke 19:10 tells us “for the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” St Augustine reminds us: “God loves every person as if there was no one else to love.”

What is even more important is that God seeks us, finds us, and then “rejoices” over finding us. All three parables end with a party. If only finding God was as much a priority for us. If only we rejoiced over finding Jesus like He rejoices over finding us. Just like the three protagonists, many of us find no cause for celebration as long as something or someone remains missing. And just like them, it is only when we find what we want, that we are able to call in our friends and neighbours to rejoice with us. We rejoice not only because we have been found, but because we have found the answer to our deepest longing – we have found “the hidden treasure”, “the pearl of great price”, “the fatted calf.” If that has been missing in your life, be assured, you have found Him. The last parable of the Prodigal Son tells us that the father instructs his servants to slaughter the “fatted calf” to celebrate his son’s return. Jesus is that fatted calf sacrificed for the sins of humanity so that we who are lost may be found. At every Mass, we dine once again in the heavenly banquet prepared for those who were once lost but now found, as we feast on the “fatted calf,” “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” “Happy are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.”