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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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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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