A few years ago an older couple asked me what they could do with their grandson. I asked what they meant by that.
They told me they were at their wits’ end trying to help him. His parents had given up on him. So, the grandparents were doing what they could. But their finances were being depleted and they were frustrated.
It seems that their grandson, we’ll call him James, had written bad checks. He had been arrested and convicted more than once. James had repeatedly spent time in the county jail, and the rest of his time he was on parole or probation, and getting into trouble again.
There seemed to be no end to this situation. The grandparents were not willing to give up on James, though. After some counseling, they realized that they could not put out any more money to cover James’ bad checks. He would have to go “cold turkey” on paying his own restitution.
At long last, James came to his senses and began to open a new chapter in his life. He stayed out of trouble, got a job and began to meet his financial obligations. All along, his grandparents were there for him with love and encouragement.
From Jesus’ stories in today’s Gospel, the grandparents were mirroring the love and mercy of God in their love and care for their grandson. God’s merciful love for James was coming through his grandparents. And I imagine that God was working in James’ parents, too, encouraging them to find a place in their hearts for mercy toward their son. Of course, they were free to accept or reject God’s grace. It took a while. It was long after James had turned the corner that his parents welcomed him back.
I believe that God was also working within James and in the court and jail staff as well. How else could James, like the wayward son in the Gospel story, finally find himself and return to his family and to God?
There are surely times in each of our lives when we are off the mark and need to find our way back. It might be in relationships, in honesty, in our prayer life. Jesus’ story tells us that God is always looking for us, waiting for our return. God never tires of standing by the road watching, ready to embrace us.
In the First Letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he was mercifully treated by God, though he was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” Paul’s assessment was that he “acted out of ignorance in unbelief.” In that respect, Paul was like the lost sheep in the first parable in today’s Gospel. God was patient and sought out Paul in his violent ignorance and arrogance. “Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” Paul would later write, and he saw himself as among “the foremost sinners.”
There is hope for all of us! No matter whether we are willful or ignorant sinners, God’s mercy is not lacking. God will watch for us and embrace us the moment we turn to him.
There are also times in our lives when you and I must be the visible face of our loving and merciful God. We become the longing of God for the return of those who are lost. As disciples of Jesus, we bring the mercy and love of God to life.
Where are we in the “lost and found” of life today? The lost will be found because God will keep looking for them, sometimes through us. When they are found, there is going to be a great and lavish party to celebrate. Be ready to join in!
Peace, Fr. Kevin