08Nov 08 November. Thursday, Week 31

1st Reading: Philippians (3:3-8)

Knowing Christ cleanses the heart, in a spiritual circumcision

It is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh – even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Gospel: Luke (15:1-10)

The shepherd searching for the lost sheep

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”


Finding what was lost

Have you ever spent precious time looking for something you’ve lost? With the years, increasingly I find myself wondering where I put my keys, or my cellphone. We also find ourselves looking for people. Parents look for their children if they ramble off. Men and women look for someone they can share their lives with. We all look for friends, people with whom we can share life’s journey. Underneath all this searching and longing is a more fundamental search for God who alone can satisfy the deepest longings in our hearts. Saint Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

But even more fundamental than our search for God is God’s search for us. God’s search for us took flesh in the person of Jesus. He said of himself that he came to seek and to save the lost; he gave expression to God’s longing to be in communion with us. The shepherd who searches for his lost sheep and the woman who searches for her lost coin in this morning’s two parables are images of Jesus’ search for us, of God’s search for us in Jesus. God never ceases to seek us out because we are all lost in different ways. Our search for God is always in response to God’s search for us. In the words of the first letter of Saint John, ‘We love because God first loved us.’

The one per cent

Many of Jesus recorded words were spoken at the dining tables of his wealthy hosts. The two parables he tells in today’s gospel were told at table. Each concludes with someone who has happily retrieved lost goods and then invites friends and neighbours to ‘Rejoice with me!’ Happy occasion like these are compared with God’s joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, which is greater than over the ninety-nine righteous who have no need to repent.

Each of us is reflected both in the ninety-nine sheep that are always there and countable, and also in lost sheep that wanders off and is reluctant to live under control. We have ideas and talents that we understand and try to use. We are quietly proud of them, and often get credit for them. These are the ninety-nine percent of ourselves that has “no need to repent.” But has God also poured an unruly talent or quality into us, the one percent of lost sheep? Stretching the parable a bit, this easily lost part of ourselves can be a special grace so fleeting that it can easily pass us by. Have we some dream that seems too idealistic even to mention? It might be so demanding that we try to suppress it.

The parable assures us that the lost sheep and lost coin in each of us can be found. We must leave aside the ninety-nine other aspects of ourselves and seek this one special thing. Are we ready and willing to light a lamp and sweep the house of our existence diligently, till we discover the lost coin? With this in mind we can also recall the gospel warning about judging our neighbour. We judge from the evidence we see; but what we see not may be the full story. Our estimates seldom take into consideration the potential of the lost sheep or the lost coin. Only when the lost one is found, is the picture complete. Jesus wants all his people to share in his work as shepherd, never ceasing to care for those outside the margins, the lost ones that he came to find.

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