24th Sunday 2019
Exodus 32:7-11 13-14; 1 Tim 1:2-17; Luke 15: 1-32
Gloriously encouraging readings today, speaking to us of God’s willingness to forgive—or rather, of His eagerness to forgive. The Book of Exodus relates how, in answer to Moses’ prayer, God forgave the Israelites their sin in making the golden calf. The psalm is part of the Miserere, the greatest of the penitential psalms, admitting our sins and seeking forgiveness, while St. Paul reminds us that the whole purpose of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to save sinners. Finally, we have those three parables of mercy from chapter 15 of St. Luke’s Gospel: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.
I used to be puzzled by the story of the lost coin. I couldn’t understand why the lady threw a party which probably cost her more than the value of the lost and found coin, until someone pointed out to me that this is the very nub of the parable: that God has spent on us the life of His Son, who is worth more than all of us put together.
It became even clearer when something happened to me. It occurred in January 1977, during the long hard winter which followed the long hot summer of 1976. I was on the staff of the Junior Seminary at Upholland, responsible for the first years (Year 7 in new money: Underlow as they were known there). On a Monday afternoon we teamed up with the second years (aka Low Figures) for football, but in that freezing January, with the snow lying thickly on the pitches, footy was out of the question.
So instead we made a virtue of necessity, and went out onto the nearby golf course to sledge and hurl snowballs, spending a thoroughly enjoyable hour and a half in “winter pursuits”. Come half past four or thereabouts, it was time to return to the college for tea. As we were leaving the confines of the golf course, I pushed back my cuff to check my watch and—horror of horror of unspeakable horrors—my watch wasn’t there. At some point in the last hour and a half it had slipped off my wrist, and was lying somewhere out there in the snow—and now in the dark.
I was devastated. This wasn’t just any old watch: it had been my 21st birthday present from my mother and father, and to lose it was unthinkable; but lose it I had. I spent a wretched evening and night, thinking, planning, worrying. I couldn’t afford to buy one similar, and even if I could, I would know that it wasn’t THE watch. I pestered St. Anthony fit to bust, whilst realising that it was asking a bit much, even of St. Anthony, to find a watch on a golf course in the snow.
The following morning I gave the lads Latin class off, and set out with them to search for my lost watch. Crazy wasn’t it? The proverbial needle in the equally proverbial haystack would have been kids’ stuff in comparison. Of course we didn’t find it, and I was trudging back miserably for the next lesson when I heard footsteps padding through the snow behind me.
“Father, Father, is this your watch?” and there was Bill Butterworth holding out my watch, none the worse for its night in the snow.
The lady in the parable had nothing on me. I bombarded the Lord, His mother, and St. Anthony, with “thank you” prayers. I gave the lads “prep off”, much to the disgust of the Headmaster who found them running around the place when he thought they should have had their noses to the grindstone. Could I have cared less what the Headmaster thought? Could I heck as like! Finally, I arranged a trip out for the lads on their next free afternoon, no expense spared.
Ever since then, I have understood that parable—the sheer jubilation which that lady felt on finding something precious which she had lost. And that, says Our Lord, is a pale imitation of the jubilation which God feels when he can forgive a sinner, throwing a party for the angels. You can’t beat it, can you?