Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Rejoice with me!

The petite woman was about to get into her car, but she was smiling and looking at me as I walked my little dog down her street. "Good morning," I said.

"Good morning!" she replied. "I was so happy…" she began, and I wondered where this was going. "… because my dog ran away, but he came back just now. I was getting ready to go to work, and there he was!" She wiggled a bit to show me how he'd greeted her.

"That's wonderful!" I said. I knew what it felt like to lose track of a pet, or a child, and to find them again.

She went on to tell me about how the dog has run away in the past, but the tag on his collar has her phone number—this time, though, she had cut his hair and left his collar off. She spoke of her futile visit to the Humane Society, and of her other dog's despondency—he had missed his buddy. "But then there he was!" she said. She could not contain her joy.

"Congratulations!" I said. "That's a great thing." We said good-bye, and I thought of a story Jesus told nearly two thousand years ago.

4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 6‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Luke 15:4-7
The story has two points: one is that there is rejoicing in heaven when someone repents (no, really!). Our experience of joy on earth is both an echo of our Creator's joy and a hint of future joys in heaven, even as the love I feel toward my children points to the love my heavenly father feels toward me. As Merton writes,
All nature is meant to make us think of paradise. Woods, fields, valleys, hills, the rivers and the sea, the clouds traveling across the sky, light and darkness, sun and stars, remind us that the world was created as a paradise … Heaven is even now mirrored in created things.
No Man Is an Island 6.15 (p. 115)
Heaven is indeed mirrored in created things—and not just in things we can see, but also in love and joy.

The parable has a barb: The Pharisees and teachers of the law did not rejoice when "tax collectors and sinners" were listening to Jesus and presumably repenting; hence they were no friends of heaven.
The second point, and probably the reason Jesus told the parable, is this: Friends and neighbors rejoice together. That is, if someone is happy because a lost sheep or coin (or dog) is found, friends and neighbors are the ones who rejoice with them. That is, both here and in the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), the finder calls friends and neighbors together to celebrate.

I had a chance that morning to be a neighbor to this woman, if not a friend, by rejoicing with her. Come to think of it, I'm glad we had a chance to talk, because it reminded me of the Great Shepherd's joy, which I can share in, and of the many good gifts he gives me daily.

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