The stories in Luke 15 (the lost sheep, coin and son) forcefully draw our attention to our importance in the eyes of God. We should be humbled and uplifted. Listen to the attitude that characterizes the finding of the lost sheep:
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
The joy, the celebration, and the community that accompany the return of the lost one are compelling. Each of the stories of this Lukan chapter captures these same elements in much the same words. One can hardly miss the point.
Sometimes when we focus on ourselves, we can draw attention to our intelligence or our talents or our accomplishments. Although these assertions may capture a truth, they can also reflect some pride and self-centeredness. Reminding ourselves that we are precious to God, however, could be and should be a daily, glorious affirmation. In its most telling phrase, the Gospel of John reminds us that God loves us so much that he sent his only son for our sake (Jn 3:16). Jesus teaches that one can have no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13), and he willingly surrenders himself for us. How precious we are!
The often-prayed Psalm 100 in the Breviary reminds us of how God cares for us and how we should care for him:
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
Know that the LORD is God,
he made us, we belong to him . . .
we are his people, the flock he shepherds.
This awareness of our worth before God should overflow into an awareness of how precious other human beings are as well. When Pope John Paul II visited the USA in 1979, he spoke on the Capital Mall where he said:
Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is forever. Life is also precious because it is the expression and the fruit of love.
That statement has stayed with me. Human life is forever and always precious. It is created in love.
This observation brings me full circle in the reflection of this essay. Vincent de Paul’s awareness of the priceless eternal character of human life drove his awareness of the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation. The experiences of Gannes and Folleville urged him to seek the lost sheep on the mission, and to rejoice at their return to the fold. For these precious brothers and sisters, as for each of us, this provides the path to eternal life.