Thinking Anew – Lost and found
Photograph: Sviatlana Lazarenka/iStock
In the early days of Irish television the station aired many US soaps. Anyone watching them would think that everyone living in the United States lived in a mansion and drove the fanciest and best of cars. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. As with every other corner of the earth, the US back then and today has its own share of poverty, misery and pain. And today too, television can easily give us a very wrong picture of reality.
Has it ever struck you watching advertisements, how perfect and beautiful everyone looks and, indeed, how the world is such a perfect place? Could anything be further from the truth? Yet we all seem to fall for it. We must, otherwise advertising would not be such a big business.
It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as perfection in any form or shape, at least not in this world.
Today we are more open and probably quicker to admit the suffering and pain that people who are marginalised experience. For example, when it comes to mental health more effort is made in dealing with the problem out in the open than behind high walls. And it’s also the better approach. Thankfully, we don’t use crass words to describe people with special needs. It’s true to say that we are on a learning curve. But there is always the difficulty that we are specifically selective in whom we consider to be the marginalised and weakest in our community.
In tomorrow’s Gospel, Luke (15: 1-32) tells us how the Pharisees and scribes were annoyed with Jesus for welcoming and eating with sinners. He then goes on to tell the parables of the wise shepherd, who goes off looking for the lost sheep, and the woman with the 10 coins, who loses one and spends a lot of time and energy looking for the one she lost. Luke follows that up with the story of the prodigal son. In all three cases, the effort is worthwhile: the sheep and the coin are found. And the one lost son returns to his home and to his family, where he is lovingly received by his father, though, in spite of his brother.
It’s interesting how so much attention is given to what has been lost, the sheep, the coin and the son, and then the joy and celebration when they are found and are back in the fold. The mercy of God really is all-encompassing.
While the three parables are about loss, they are primarily about being found. Tomorrow’s Gospel tells a universal story and speaks right to the times in which we are living. We are all God’s children and it is not for you or me to decide who is part of the fold. There is place for all of us in this confused world of ours.
With such a Gospel reading one is forced to think of how badly we are treating migrants who come to our shores, looking for help and protection. There will be the cry from people who will say that we simply cannot take in so many. The world is large and wealthy enough to care for all its inhabitants. The problem is that we have not gone to the trouble of reaching out to those who need our care and compassion. If we spent as much effort and money in attempting to alleviate poverty as we do on weaponry, there would be few if any people abandoning their homes and looking for solace on our shores. And we also far too easily forget that it was the developed world who through colonisation, war and a policy of might-is-right that left the peoples of the developing world in such poverty and misery. We are all in this together. It’s facile to find scapegoats, it’s lazy to hide away those who don’t suit us.
Jesus does the very opposite, he goes to great trouble bringing back into the fold those who have been lost and are in pain. We can never brush aside those who are an embarrassment or cause us any sort of discomfort. We do it but it’s never the wise action to take. And it’s not a question of cherry-picking. Today it might be fashionable to focus on one group of marginalised people. There can never be any cherry-picking in the Christian message. All marginalised people deserve our fellowship and love. The Christian message is a powerful message of communion, all people, living together in unity and peace. In harmony too.