It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost. (Matthew 18:14)
First, let’s raise our hands to make it perfectly clear that we certainly do consider ourselves “little ones.”
Gamboling little sheep with little brains.
We acknowledge that we are highly prone to disorientation. And, once disoriented, we find ourselves utterly defenseless.
So: Yes, we see that we are very small and shaky, Lord. As the prophet Isaiah put it: We are like grass that can and will wilt.
Second, let’s rejoice in knowing the will of our heavenly Father.
Our first reading at Holy Mass today paints the grand picture: “A rugged land shall be made plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” The Lord comes with power to gather his lambs, and He leads his ewes with care. He makes it possible for us little lambs to travel to the holy mountain.
The good God has a kind heart. He wills our salvation, not our demise. He intervenes to help us elude the wolves. By using these lovely pastoral metaphors, the Son of God has revealed the secret center of everything. The secret center of everything is: God’s tender love.
One important thing for us to try and remember when reading the Holy Scriptures: For the ancient nomad, there was only one bank account you could have, namely animals.
We get statements in the mail. The ancient nomad heard the sound of his wealth bleating in the clover. We write checks or execute electronic fund transfers. The ancient nomad sheared, or slaughtered, or sold a few head.
We make deposits. The ancient nomad bred his animals, or acquired more by shrewd dealing. We talk to accountants about income projections for our savings and investments, with an eye to retirement. The ancient nomad ran his hands over the stubbly backs of his lowing animals and prayed: May no disease, no thief, no predator bring you to grief, O future of mine.
We fear stock market crashes. The ancient nomad feared wolves in the night.
Ninety-nine sheep huddled together, on the way to the fold, as the sun sets: Safe. Money in the bank.
On the other hand, one lone sheep, on a hillside somewhere: Tasty looking.
God has no need of us. But the mystery of Christ’s revelation teaches us this: Even though the heavenly Father enjoys perfect happiness and blessedness from ages unto ages, He nonetheless imagines a future with us. We are His precious money, His wealth, and He has an immeasurable zeal for the safety of His investment. He showed us on the Cross how intense is His desire to cash us in, when the time comes, at full value.
Chapter fifteen of St. Luke’s gospel is famous for containing: the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Prodigal Son.
In between these two beautiful parables, there is a strange one, the parable of the Lost Coin:
Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Please do not get me wrong: I mean no disrespect to our Lord. But I have always found this parable strange.
Sure, losing one-tenth of your savings is something that would lead you to go searching, lamp in hand. But there seems to be more to this than the monetary value of the coin…
According to the old customs of Palestine, brides do not wear wedding rings. They wear veils embroidered with coins, or necklaces made of coins. The coins symbolize the dowry they brought to the marriage. The coins ARE the wedding ring, the symbol of the marriage bond.
The woman in the parable, searching the house frantically with lighted lamp, is searching for her lost wedding ring.