First Reading: Ex32:7-11.13-14; Psalm: 51. R. v. Lk 15:18; Second Reading: 1Tim 1:12-17; Gospel: Lk 15:1-32
THE MISSING TAB
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
A lot of us played the photo puzzle game as kids. This game is the reassembling of different unorganised tabs to form a full picture. Each of these tabs is a segment that carries a piece of the whole picture and contributes to the assemblage of the entire picture. Each of these tabs also has its proper place which if placed elsewhere, distorts the beauty and the original appearance of the picture. It is quite a tricky but an interesting game. Now, imagine playing a photo puzzle game and suddenly discover a missing tab or some missing tabs. This will not only create spaces on the game board but will also distort the appearance of the picture. This shows how very valuable each piece of tab is in this game.
The importance of a single tab in this puzzle game is similar to the importance of a football player in a team. Each player has a significant role to play in a soccer team. Once any player gets a red card, it affects the entire team who will then need to work extra hard to cover up. But in actual sense, no player sets out in any game to get sent off. It is only an accidental result of a player trying to play safe to prevent his team from losing a match.
The truth is that no one sets out in life to be wayward, disobedient or a sinner. The result of these unpleasant names stems from the choice of people to live in a way they feel right. We then begin to see them as disobedient or sinners because they do not live up to our expectations. But in their own world, they feel they are doing what seems right to them. One flawed condition of man is staying out. And one endless task of God is trying to keep us in; to keep us together. It was for this reason that he gave up his Son to reconcile us to himself. So this flawed condition of man is helpless but for the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
It was for the sake of us who in our self acclaimed righteousness condemn others as sinners that Jesus told this parable of a lost sheep. “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4). This introducing excerpt from the parable of the lost sheep is loud enough to reveal to us that Jesus wants us to know that we collectively or individually had a hand in the loss of a member of God’s family to the life of sin. Unless we are so perfect not to have manifested an attitude of sin at all.
Even if as a father or mother we are so perfect not to mislead our children; what about our unintended negligence? We may feel we sent our children to a good school; but what about the influence of the society and peer pressure? Some of us may claim to be very holy as priests; but there are definitely moments we messed up big time. If ever we have regrettable mistakes, then we may have contributed to misleading a soul to sin. We need to see ourselves in that person we call wayward, disobedient or a sinner but for the grace of God.
As children of God, each of us forms a piece of tab that makes up the beautiful picture of the whole family of God just like in the photo puzzle game. Flawed as we are, we are all so disorganised and wayward trying to be like the other person and trying to fit into each other’s space due to misleading influences. As we do this, God continually works trying to rearrange and re-position us to our rightful space to bring out that original picture of the beautiful family of God that Christ his Son made us to be by his reconciliatory sacrifice on the cross. God does this every day. And it is not something he enjoys doing. It is his grace that enables us to remain in our rightful space; the position he wants us to be.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Go down; for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves; they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” From this abrupt command of God to Moses, we can see how quickly God reacts and acts once we begin to drift from his original plan for us or from the very position he wants us to be. God feels so uncomfortable and will not rest until he keeps us where we truly belong.
But the parable of the lost sheep in the gospel of today tells us that sometimes we do not just derail but we get completely lost. And much like in the photo puzzle game; this is not about taking a different position on our own while remaining on the game board, but completely going missing. When this happens, the family of God is affected. Times like this, it is no longer about struggling to go to Church, but keeping away completely from Church. It is no longer reflecting on what God says but accepting what one feels. It is no longer whether our actions are right or wrong but whether the action is pleasurable. It is no longer struggling to overcome the life of sin but living unremorsefully in sin. At this point, there is a missing tab in the portrait of God’s family that needs to be found and placed back.
Since each of us is like a piece of tab in the picture of God’s family; and since the loss of one distorts the whole, we can now better understand why God cannot rest until he finds us. The surprising news is that God pays more attention to sinners; not because we are sinners but because our return reunites us with him and completes the fold. This is the desire of God. “Of those you have given to me,” Jesus said, “I lost not one.” (Jn 18:9).
We cannot be happy and fulfilled until we fit back into our space in God’s family. That space that belongs to us is always there. It is for no other person but us. This is how precious we are to God even though we sometimes do not know this. We cannot fit into the space of the world because we were not created for the world but for God. We may seem happy and excited staying away from God; but in the inner recesses our hearts, we are empty and sad. As Saint Augustine would say, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The thanksgiving of Saint Paul to God in the introductory part of the second of today is a sigh of relief from a man whom God did not judge but mercifully brought back into the fold. Saint Paul acknowledged that he received the mercy of God because he acted in ignorance. Ignorance is simply not knowing or finding the truth. The feelings we get staying out from God and doing things our own way may appear right and pleasant. But the grace of God will find us some day and then we would realise how ignorant we have been all the while.
This grace of God is the search of God for us. God will never stop until he finds us. Repentance does not happen out of our own power. It is only a response to God’s grace whose love searches us out and draws us to him. And when God succeeds in bringing us back, we will discover how beautiful we shall become when we fit into our space as that missing tab that completes that beautiful picture of God’s family. And then as a complete team we shall collectively win the trophy of eternal life.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus our Good Shepherd, as flawed creatures that we are, we have wandered away from you seeking our own path. May your love and grace continually search for us to bring us back to our rightful place into your beautiful family. Amen.