An inner city church, located in an area of a large American city where there were few residents, was forced to a decision. A large corporation was offering them a great deal of money for their site, on which the corporation wanted to put a parking lot. The money would enable the parish to move to the inner city where they would find many more people to serve. Even though this was exciting to some of the congregation, other members were resistant to the idea. They pointed out that the church was the guardian of a building whose history and architecture reached back into the early part of the nineteenth century. History had been made in that building.
Eventually the congregation decided to sell the site and make the move to the inner-city neighborhood. The pastor said, “We had to decide whether we wanted to be in a museum or in mission, we couldn’t have it both ways. It meant either staying on the original site, glorying in the past history and serving a few people, or giving up the past and gearing up ourselves for a significant ministry among the city’s people. We opted for mission status over museum status.
Something of this same struggle is indicated in this Gospel. The Pharisees and scribes came down on the side of museum religion. They wanted attention given to those who were stable, pious and not a liability if invited to the local country club. Their rationale was “Let’s have our synagogue programs be dependable for our like-minded types.” Jesus disappointed them by insisting that the issue was one of mission: to reach out to those who needed great mercy and perhaps a bath.
The Pharisees’ love of God’s law made them forget about God’s love. God loves us even more than a parent loves a child. God longs to rescue those who are lost. (It’s like his favorite pastime.) Our loving God will search for that which is lost. There’s no giving up, no quitting point. Just like looking for a lost coin – there’s no such thing as a life without worth. God doesn’t mind stooping down to find us and lift us up from the depths we have fallen into. Each time you stoop to pick up something that has fallen to the floor, however trivial a thing it may seem, that God does not disdain to stoop down to pick us up each and every time, after time that we fall.
In Jesus’ day when a husband took a bride, he gave her a headband with ten silver coins that were evenly spaced. She wore this headband in public to show that she was married. If she was unfaithful, one of the coins was removed, and the gap showed that she had disgraced her marriage vows. It was a shame and disgrace to lose any of these coins.
Loss of the coin in Jesus’ parable it seems was a result of carelessness, but not a moral disgrace. It was lost on a dirt floor in the darkness. People without God are the like that. They are not just lost, they are in the dirt and the dark. They need Jesus, the Light of the World – we all do. Jesus looks for us, so He can bring us out of the darkness into the light! Our community hospitality ministry helps people come into the light of welcome, friendship and compassion so that they in turn can be a light to those they associate with. We feed their hunger for peace, camaraderie, spiritual growth, a prayerful liturgy and often top it with a good meal.
Let me end with a story that proves we never know what will bring people to their knees.
A minister was waiting in line at the Pearly Gates. Ahead of him there was a fellow who was dressed in sunglasses, a loud shirt, leather jacket and jeans. Saint Peter addressed the asked, “Who are you, so that I may know whether or not to admit you to the Kingdom of Heaven?” “I’m Joe Cohen, taxi driver, of New York City”. Saint Peter consulted his list, smiled and said: “Take this silken robe and enter.
Away he went. Next in line was the minister. . He stood erect and boomed out, “I am Msgr Joseph, pastor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral for the last forty-three years.” Saint Peter consulted his list and said to the minister, “Here, take this cotton robe and you can come in.” Just a minute here,” said the minister. “That man was a taxi driver and he gets a silken robe. How can this be?” ”
“Up here,” said St. Peter, we work by results. While you preached, people slept. While he drove, people prayed.”