The parables of Jesus are meant to pounce, at least if we’ve truly heard them. They’re a bit like playing with a kitten, one that surprises us with an unexpected swipe. Each parable imparts a deeply personal lessen, but only if we enter the play.
We don’t engage the parable of the Lost Sheep, or the Misplaced Coin, if we immediately picture someone else who is lost, say, someone who’s not in church this morning. That’s akin to wearing a baseball mitt to play with your kitten. You’ve removed yourself from the parable.
But we are in church, so what’s this business about being lost? It’s really quite simple. If the question is faithfulness to the Gospel—a discipleship that is fully alive—then, on this side of the grave, the old hymn doesn’t have it quite right. We weren’t lost and are now found. We’re all a bit lost and a bit found. Even more amazing, we manage to be bit of both in the same day. So the question posed to our poor, divided hearts is this: what parts of myself are found and what parts can’t be found?
A tested and proven religious exercise can help: the daily examination of conscience. Saint Ignatius of Loyola thought the practice so effective that he urged his Jesuit novices never to neglect it, even if, on a given day, they lacked time for any other sort of prayer.
Certainly the examen has a deep moral character, but we truncate its effectiveness if we simply catalogue what we did right or wrong on any given day. Here’s another approach.
Find a time towards the close of your day. It helps to “lean” this little exercise against some activity that’s already a part of your day. If you do something like washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, or brushing your teeth daily, you’ve got the perfect prop against which to lean your examination.
First, place yourself in the presence of God, which really means, remember that you are in God’s presence. Second, ask for the gift of insight. Then, break down the day you’ve just lived into portions that make sense. That’s probably not an hour-by-hour recap. It might look more like: before I went to work, before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner.
Next, pose a simple question about that period of time. With the grace of hindsight ask yourself: Before I went to work, did I feel close to the Lord? Was I “found?” If so, what needs to follow you on your way to work? How do you stay “found?”
On the other hand, if recalling what happened in the afternoon fills you with regret, the good news is that the grace of the Lord has already found you. At least you’ve recognize that you were lost. Then the question is what you need to do in order to learn from your mistake. Do you owe someone an apology? What advice would you give to your future self when faced with the same situation again?
Jesus is always searching. He doesn’t stop because we’ve been baptized or fill a pew. He searches for us in the tangle of the day, because the human heart is akin to a flock of sheep or a bag of coins. It’s divided against itself. It’s both lost and found. And pondering the day just passed is a good way to watch the shepherd search.
Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14 1 Timothy 1: 12-17 Luke 15: 1-32