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Bible Reflections View Comments

Why Do We Search for What's Lost?
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013
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I hate losing things. Not big things, although those losses carry their own heartache. No, I hate losing little, insignificant things: a favorite pen, a book that I read long ago and suddenly thought of again, a particular item of clothing that I may or may not have given to Goodwill. I will tear the house apart looking for the lost item. I will obsess about it until I find it—or have to admit defeat. More often than not, I find it after I stop looking.

The interesting thing about this quirk of mine is that I can see a bit of it in the parables in today’s Gospel. They each focus on a search for what’s lost, and the energy of the search is far greater than the thing being sought would seem to warrant.

The woman sweeping her house and going over every inch of it with a lamp for a small coin probably wasted far more oil for her lamp than the coin was worth. Certainly what she spent on the party far outweighed the discovery.

Commentators often point out the absurdity of the shepherd exposing an entire flock of sheep to the dangers of the wilderness in order to search for one lost lamb that may already have become a meal for a wolf. The wastrel younger son in the longer story certainly seems like no real loss to a responsible and upstanding family.

The very insignificance of these lost things is what Jesus wants to emphasize. Some of the Pharisees and scribes have criticized him for associating with sinners. To their eyes, these people aren’t worth a second glance, let alone the time and attention Jesus gives them. They have time only for important things and the right sort of people.

We might say that they have their priorities straight. But we would be wrong, at least from God’s perspective. They’re judging others based on surface realities alone. And they’re seeing those people as separate from themselves, separate from God.

Jesus reminds us that people are important not because of who they are or what they do, but because of their relationship to God.

This is usually what happens when I’m obsessing about something that I’ve lost. It’s usually something attached to a memory, to a friend, to something that matters to me but is only incidentally attached to a particular object. And I forget that I’ve lost only the object, not the memory or the relationship itself. Last December I looked high and low for a plush Santa that I’d had since childhood, knowing all the time that what I was really searching for was a connection to my mom, who had died in October.

In the reading from Exodus, the aftermath of the golden calf episode, Moses reminds the Lord that these people who have strayed are nevertheless the heirs to the covenant God made with Abraham and renewed at Sinai. It’s not because of their virtue, their good behavior, their status. It’s the inherent worth they have as people created and redeemed by a loving and merciful God.

In the end, then, our lives are about our relationship with God and with one another. This is why when we’re lost, our God seeks us out. This is why when our own key relationships falter, we move heaven and earth to reconcile. We are one, and that unity is broken if any part is missing.


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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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