by David Romanik
The fifteenth chapter of Luke’s gospel contains three parables about finding the lost: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son, or more accurately, the parable of the lost sons. Jesus tells these parables in response to the Pharisees and the scribes, those members of the religious establishment who were grumbling that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them”. The first two parables demonstrate the lengths to which the lost are sought out: the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go after the one that has wandered away; the woman turns her house upside down to find the coin that has rolled under the couch. The message of these parables seems fairly straightforward in light of the context: Jesus insists to the religious authorities that God is passionately committed to finding those who have gone astray. The third and longest parable, on the other hand, focuses less on the one doing the finding and more on those who are lost. Significantly, this parable focuses not just on the son who left home, the one who obviously went astray, but the son who remained in his father’s house, who despite his apparent faithfulness, was just as lost as his younger brother. This third parable complicates, or at least reframes the previous two, reminding us that no matter how hard someone is looking for us, the only way we can truly be found is when we admit that we are lost.
At its heart, the season of Lent is about acknowledging this unsettling truth: that there is a level at which we all need to be found. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, when we are invited to the observance of a holy Lent with this description of the season: “[Lent] was also a time,” the Celebrant explains, “when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.” By welcoming and reconciling those who have obviously gone astray, in other words, the Church reminds her members that we are all looking for a place to belong, that we all need to come home.
If you are anything like me, you have felt this need acutely in the lead-up to Lent of 2022. The disruptions and uncertainties of the last two years have continued to impact our lives of faith. For one reason or another, many of us haven’t yet returned to a recognizable spiritual routine. Even those of us who have gotten “back in the habit” may feel that something is missing, that we are still, at some level, spiritually adrift. It is in moments like this the parable of the two lost sons speaks most clearly. The recognition that we are lost and the promise that God will find us is precisely what we need as we prepare for this particular Lenten season.
This is part of the reason that we are reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming”. More information about this study can be found on page 6. We hope you will join us as we use the Lenten season to remind ourselves that God will find us when we are lost.