Has an airline ever lost your luggage? It’s happened to me. It’s a terribly inconvenient experience, what with my clothing, toothpaste and toothbrush packed in that suitcase, not to mention other valuable items, all missing. My business trip was disrupted. I was distracted and anxious about my belongings. I checked in with the airline’s lost and found department. They promised to call the moment they found my luggage. Being of little faith, I held out little hope. But, find it they did! I was never more relieved and joyful.
Those feelings and emotions come to mind when I reflect on the parables of this gospel.
In the first parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd represents God. The shepherd astoundingly leaves an entire flock of sheep in order to search for a single lost one. How impractical and reckless is that? Yet, that is how much God, the shepherd, loves us.
But the second parable is even more astonishing. Here, it is a woman – an ordinary, poor woman at that – who represents God.
Most of us refer to God almost exclusively as a male. But Scripture makes no such exclusions. Scripture also personifies Wisdom as the feminine character of God present to us. So, then, who is this woman sweeping in dusty corners for the lost coin? It is the Wisdom of God searching frantically for her lost currency.
And when the woman – this feminine God – finds the coin, she invites her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her. In the Greek of Luke’s gospel, the words for friends and neighbors are both feminine. After finding her coin, she calls together the women who are her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” She wants share her great joy with those close to her. There is something maternal and warm in this image of the neighborhood women gathering to celebrate.
Together with the parable that evokes the biblical image of God as the loving shepherd, Jesus chose a story that resonates with the equally biblical image of God among us as Mother Wisdom. Wisdom herself is doing the searching. She is searching for something small but, to her, ultimately precious. That coin is you and me.
This is a story about who God is, a God present in our midst, choosing to live in our home, lighting a lamp to pierce the darkness and searching, not for money, for but us – we who became invisible, lost in the dark corners of our lives.
Look closely. Whether resembling a good shepherd or poor woman, it is God who searches until he finds us – the God of the lost and found.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.