Luke 15:1-10 – The 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, September 15, 2013
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them . . .” ((Luke 15:8)
In August a year ago, Mom had moved from her home of forty-six years to a retirement community. Many of the contents of her suburban house were donated, itemized for a garage sale or bequeathed to my two sisters and me. She would only bring what she needed to her new residence.
When I arrived for a first visit a couple of weeks after her move, the new apartment had packed and unpacked cardboard boxes everywhere . . . on her floors, piled in closets and also in the dishwasher-sized storage unit in a separate area. Mom had already filled her assigned space with several empty suitcases, Christmas ornaments and more boxes.
After a hug and chitchat and how-was-the-drive-from-Fresno, Mom’s demeanor flattened like air escaping a tire.
“I’ve lost a box.”
A box. There were scores of boxes in Mom’s apartment. It was a condensed version of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones’ wooden box was stored in a government warehouse with a zillion other similar containers.
“Which box, Mom?”
“It’s the one with a thousand dollars in it.”
Ah. That box.
Mom and Dad were born in the first decades of the twentieth-century. That generation survived the interminable “Great Depression” and then saved the world from the tyranny of dictators. Though I didn’t know when I was a kid, as an adult—and privy to a few of my parents’ “secrets”—I’d learned they kept cash hidden in the house. The financial woes of 1930s demonstrated that a bank might abruptly close its doors. World War II revealed that normalcy could shift to panic and only fools wouldn’t prepare for the proverbial “rainy day.” Of course they hoarded a stash of cash.
“I think I put the box in the storage unit,” she said.
We looked. Indeed, over the next hours, we investigated the smallish storage space multiple times. We opened and closed and opened every carton of any size in her apartment. It didn’t matter if a box had been labeled Photo Albums or Kitchen Stuff, we thoroughly searched the apartment’s nooks, crannies and, like Jesus’ woman with the lost coin, lighted a lamp to illuminate the darkest reaches of rooms and corners.
It wasn’t World War II, but Mom’s normalcy had shifted to panic.
Had the box been stolen? Probably. Soon after moving in, Mom recalled carting the box with the tucked-away cash into the storage area. She planned to unload and itemize it when the apartment was less cluttered. Had she properly secured the padlock on the storage unit’s flimsy mesh door? Maybe, but maybe not. Before I departed the next day, we reluctantly guessed the box had been opened by someone that quickly discovered a tidy sum of money and threw the rest of the contents into a dumpster.
We would never know.
The lost was lost.
Unlike Jesus’ determined woman, Mom’s “coins” were never found.
What have you lost . . . and found? What have you lost . . . and never found?
We think of divorce and death as loss, with the person never “found” again. And there are endless headlines where the “lost”—the kidnapped child, the terrorist-held adult—were never “found” again. Finding does not automatically follow being lost, and often the lost that are never found become lifetime wounds for loved ones.
Being lost and being found was an essential and recurring theme for Jesus. The simple parable of a woman’s search for a coin was followed in Luke by the complex “Prodigal Son” story . . . where a younger son is lost, and then found; where a father loses then finds; where an older son seems—depending on the interpretation—forever lost, though he never left. To be lost and found represented the easiest and hardest ways to understand redemption, the return to your senses, the return to faith and the return to God.
A woman found her coin and rejoiced.
Mom never found her box.
And yet I don’t think it was her “stuff” that mattered. It wasn’t even the cash stash that mattered. In her move, from a known home to unknown apartment, from the old comfortable normal to the new scary normal, she was vulnerable. Everything felt lost.
A year later, in this here and now late summer of 2013, Mom has died. A sudden, terrible diagnosis of cancer and its complications took her life in the span of four weeks. My sisters and I have closed her apartment, and every box once there—empty or full—is gone. In the last days of her life, I read Jesus’ parable of the woman’s search for the lost coin to her. When I read it, in the quiet morning of Mom’s room at a skilled nursing facility, she was already non-responsive. But they say hearing is the last of the senses to go. Perhaps she heard me read the scripture, perhaps she didn’t.
As Mom lay dying, I told her I felt lost because of losing her. But I also told her I’d found my way in life and faith because of all the daily love she and Dad had shared with me. I can humbly claim I thanked Mom for her love when she was at her best (and never fretted about lost cash). And I thanked her when she was at her worst (and near the final breaths of her earthly life).
We’re all lost coins and boxes, aren’t we?
But I still believe God is the forever finder, seeking to guide us to open our hearts to the treasures that matter most.
(Image from here.)