When I was a little girl – probably 3 or 4 years old – we lived in a trailer on my grandma’s farm yard. The yard was a mile away from the highway down a gravel road, and my mom used to like to go for walks down that road.
One beautiful summer afternoon, Mom decided to go for one of her walks. I was supposed to stay on the yard with my dad, who was out in his shop working on some sort of farm thing or another. (I was a little kid … all I knew was that it was enormous and had wheels.) But the day was so beautiful, and the road didn’t look that long. I decided I wanted to take my doll in her buggy down the road to walk with Mom. So I started walking.
It didn’t take that long to catch up with Mom because she was already on her way back, and from what I remember, it was fun walking and pushing my doll buggy as it bumped along the gravel. It was fun … until we got back to the yard and I realized just how worried and scared my dad was. One minute, I had been there. The next minute, I was gone. Only now that I am a parent am I truly able to appreciate what I must have put him through that day.
And the father said, … “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:24)
At its heart, the story of the prodigal son is a “lost and found” story. As the father so joyfully declares, the younger son was lost and is found. The son himself loses sight of the importance of family and finds it again. The older brother gets lost in his indignation and resentment; it is up to us to draw our own conclusions as to whether he finds a way out.
Every way we look at this story, there are elements of being lost and being found.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to be lost? What does it mean to be found? How do we know when we’re lost or when we’re found?
Well, that’s a bit of a trick question. Yes, Jesus’ parable is often interpreted to convey the idea that when we come before God and repent of our sins, our names move from the “lost” column to the “found” column in the Giant Book of the World. But I’m challenging that interpretation because in order to it to be true, it would have to mean that we are lost from God in the first place – that something about what we’ve said or done has put us in a place that is out of God’s reach, and only by our own effort and volition can we scrabble our way back to a “findable” place.
But anyone who’s ever felt lost knows how truly impossible that can be. When you’re in that place of loss – whether you’ve lost your hope, your trust, your sense of self, your comfort, or anything else that normally keeps you grounded – you don’t feel like you have the strength to even lift your eyes. You don’t feel like you have the spiritual coordination to even begin to drag yourself to some arbitrary “findable” place.
In truth, we are never actually lost to God because we are never out of God’s reach. Paul said as much to the Christians in Rome:
I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus [the Christ] has embraced us. (Romans 8:38-39)
You see, that’s what grace is all about. Grace is about God reaching down to us even when we feel like we’re in the most unreachable place imaginable because no matter how unreachable we feel, we are never truly out of God’s reach.
That being said, the story of the prodigal son is still a “lost and found” story because it reminds us of some of the things we may have lost or lost sight of; things that we may be desperate to find again.
We find grace.
We find compassion.
We find generosity.
We find God.