There is a familiar passage in Luke 15:1-10, the usual characters gathered to listen, tax collectors and sinners, scribes and Pharisees, with Jesus jabbing a pointed story at all of them.
We hear that the sinners were listening, and the righteous people were grumbling about it. We hear a parable, perhaps two, of things lost and sought after, one sheep of a hundred, one silver coin of ten. Each are missed, each are sought, each are found, each are brought home. The finding of each thing becomes an occasion for communal rejoicing – friends, neighbors, angels.
Of course, Jesus is speaking of searching for the sinner, demonstrating God’s love and persistent interest in all who have gone astray. We get that. And if someone asks for an explanation of Jesus’ stories, the persistence of God’s love and of God’s pursuit of those who have wandered is certainly the right answer.
Somehow, I suspect we are leaving something valuable behind if we stop there. I think we have lost something.
There is, of course, the old story of never missing a drink of water until the well runs dry. Perhaps we should think of that, but in these stories there is still plenty of water left in the well, ninety-nine sheep and nine silver coins. We don’t hear of any rejoicing for these well placed and well kept majorities.
It is true that we spend a great deal of energy on the things we have lost. Money poorly spent. Twenty minutes gone in a checkout line. Twenty years that go missing while we consider what to do next. We lose our teeth, our hair, our keys, our minds, our senses of humor, our balance, our hearing, our train of thought (if it ever left the station). Our youth, opportunities, our ideals, our morals, our way, sometimes our faith, all of these things go missing. Those things we do not manage to find become our regrets.
Regret may be a good teacher, but it is a bad companion.
No one in these parables walks along keeping up with regrets. These are stories of empty space filled. Beyond taking comfort in the idea of God’s pursuit of us, should we wander off, let’s apply the parables to how we live.
The first thing is to realize what we’ve lost. It may sound obvious, but until you reach for your wallet you don’t know it isn’t there. So stop every once in a while and take stock, count heads, look around. Life may be busy, but being busy isn’t life.
The second thing is to go after what we’ve lost, whatever that may be, so long as it has real value. (If you just lost twenty pounds of fat, don’t go after a McDonald’s QuarterPounder.) If we’ve lost our sense of wonder, our sense of purpose, or our sense of joy, we need to go after it. Maybe that means taking a walk, if we can make the time, or taking a nap, or spending more time with people we love and less time simply around them.
If taking a walk to regain something of ourselves or hugging a child to regain our sense of what’s important don’t seem like especially faithful activities, then we’ve lost our sense of what is genuinely holy.
It is worth remembering that Jesus appeared to approve more of the people he found in fishing boats than of the people he found in the temple.
Finally, we may benefit from remembering the part about calling people together to rejoice. Each parable ends with communal rejoicing, a party, called by the person doing the finding. Being connected matters.
It is pretty simple, then.
From time to time, we need to pause, to take stock, count up, see what we’re missing. Sometimes we lose things better off lost: bad habits, bad company, poor judgment, ill temperaments, spandex clothing. Sometimes, we lose things that matter.
Once we know what matters and what we’ve lost, we need to go find it. The faith, hope and love we find may not look like the things we lost. We may end up with something battered, or rusty, or secondhand. There is a chance we may not find anything at all. We may look foolish or impractical. But if we spend our lives looking for the things that matter, we can reach the end of our journey without regret.
And the angels will meet us rejoicing.