Rejoicing among the angels of God …
This passage of Luke’s gospel falls between the account of the shepherd who goes searching for one lost lamb from a flock of 100 sheep and the story of the Prodigal Son whose father, even more prodigal in his love, welcomes home the child who has betrayed him, the family and the community then returned to ask forgiveness.
As I listened to the Gospel at Mass this morning, I found myself musing that most of us wouldn’t really worry all that much if we lost a coin. It’s not an image that awakens immediate comprehension in an American audience. After all, for most of us the loss of a penny, nickel, dime, quarter or even a dollar coin will not make a huge difference in whether or not we eat or have a place to sleep tonight!
As happens sometimes, I began musing about what might make the gospel more immediate for Americans and I remembered an experience from my early teenage years.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, my father led members of our parish in starting a credit union. For many years, the credit union “office” was our dining room table. Eventually a porch was enclosed and the new room became a more formal office. A few years after I got married, the credit union moved out of the family home to an office of its own. But there were many memorable moments before that move took place.
One of those moments happened on a bright summer morning when the phone rang around 10 o’clock. An elderly man in the parish had passed away a few months earlier. His children were cleaning out his home before selling it. They had moved the mattress off the bed and found an envelop containing ten one thousand dollar bills. They asked my mother to come over to the house and pick up the money as a deposit to their credit union account. Mom was bonded, so if anything happened to the money on the way to the bank, it would be insured.
Mom brought the envelop home to prepare the bank deposit and each of us got a chance to hold a $1,000 bill before she took it all to the bank. Now there was a “coin” for which an American woman (or man) would scour the house and even have a party when it was found!
Still, Jesus didn’t come to call only those with lots of $1,000 bills. And the point of the story was that there is rejoicing in Heaven when even seemingly small, unimportant folks are found. God, who is Love, welcomes all and is especially pleased when those who have turned away in ways great or small, turn back again to love.
Our pastor, Fr. Ron Shirley, spoke of an observation made by the director of Covenant House, a program for children living on the streets in the United States, Canada and Central America. The director noted that although the children/teens ask questions about practical needs, their deeper, unspoken concern is whether God could still love and forgive them for what they’ve had to do to survive their lives on the streets.
The story of the woman searching for her coin – her penny, nickel or dime – is the answer to the children’s question. Of course God still loves and forgives them. And even better, God still loves and forgives us – the adults who allow conditions to continue in which children are exploited, the poor are left to struggle on their own, the elderly are ignored or abandoned and people around the world are denied the opportunity to live with basic human dignity, food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.
The catch, of course, is that we are expected to do our part to make this a world with justice and peace for all as we turn back to our God. We are to pray for each other, including those who have harmed us, and we are to work to bring the kingdom of justice and peace into being here and now. That’s the good news Jesus brought to the men, women and children of His time. It’s the same word He speaks to us today. We all matter to God and the angels rejoice as we return to God and love others in turn. That love is to have practical consequences in our world.