“Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep” (Luke 15:7).
The parables in Luke 15 may be among the most famous passages in the Gospels: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son (the prodigal son). Each of these three parables uses a different image to illustrate the same point: God the Father goes in search of his lost children.
Interestingly, in the New American Bible Revised Edition, each of these parables is given a heading or title: “The Parable of the Lost Sheep,” “The Parable of the Lost Coin,” and “The Parable of the Lost Son.” Collectively, we could call these “The Parables of the Lost.” It is worth taking time to reflect, in the context of our spiritual life, what it means to be lost, what it means to be found, and what that has to do with discernment.
Lost and Found
What does it mean to be lost, spiritually? I’m sure we can all answer that question. We can be lost in prayer, not knowing how to pray, what to say, or how to reach God. We can be lost in relationships—perhaps we’ve hurt someone, or been hurt by someone, or are simply having difficulty communicating with someone. We can be lost when it comes to our own self-esteem, putting ourselves down and not believing we are loved as we are.
The parables say very little about how the sheep or the coin became lost. The important part for God is what happens next: after losing one sheep, who would not “leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4) The woman who loses her coin makes the same tremendous effort: she “light[s] a lamp and sweep[s] the house, searching carefully until she finds it” (Lk 15:8). The paradox of these “parables of the lost” is that it is only the lost ones who can be found. It is only those who fall who can be picked up, carried, and caressed by the shepherd, the woman, the father.
The God Who Won’t Give Up
In his letter opening the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote about these parables, describing the characteristics of God who finds us: “Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, #8). God’s mercy never gives up on us. Further, Pope Francis writes, “In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon” (Misericordiae Vultus, #8). Not only does God’s mercy never give up on us, but God’s mercy is joyful in finding us and pardoning us! This is truly the mystery of mercy.
Letting God "Find" Us
How is this connected to our discernment or our vocation? Being “found” by God is essential in vocational discernment. We need to know ourselves, to know where we are lost. We need to accept the parts of ourselves that are lost, and be willing to let God find us, instead of hiding our imperfections from him. When we are able to freely admit that we are lost and open our hearts to God’s compassion, mercy, and joy in finding us, we encounter the most precious aspect of God’s love. And it is this love that calls us, this love that leads us to the happiness God desires for us.
Let us, then, follow the advice of St. Paul, who said, “I am content with weaknesses…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). Let us be content to let God find us when we are lost, confident that he rejoices to show us his merciful love.
A Discerner’s Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing the joy that you have in bestowing your mercy on me. I want to welcome it with the same joy. Amen.
Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, FSP, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She professed her final vows in June 2018. She is currently serving in the Pauline mission of evangelization through the media and in the vocation apostolate in Alexandria, VA.