In many ways, being redeemed and healed is like finding a reality that was there all along but somehow hidden from view. Jesus used a similar analogy. The three parables in Luke 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son—speak specifically to the joy of returning, and not just inner joy, but rejoicing worthy of celebration in community. When the shepherd “comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” Similarly, when the woman has found the lost coin, “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’” And the father hastily arranges an elaborate celebration, as “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” The exegesis is offered in the text: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
I used to wonder why Christians perceive more joy over a sinner returning than one who does right. Staying on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, after all. Doing right has its own reward, and likewise doing wrong has its own punishment, but scripture is telling us it is more than that. I think the reason has to do with heartbreak. We could use a metaphor of a sailing ship returning with all her crew from a routine voyage versus returning from a voyage after all were feared lost at sea. Certainly loved ones would happily welcome the expected return of any voyage. Imagine the heartbreak and grief instead if the ship failed to return and all were thought dead. And then, imagine the ship limping into harbor with all souls accounted for. The rejoicing would be greater because the returning conquers heartbreak.
There is heartbreak and grief when we veer off course into wrongdoing. We inflict that heartbreak on ourselves, on others and on God. Upon returning, the heartbreak is not just repaired. The joy of returning exceeds the heartbreak, overcoming it with grace. It is like the resurrection of Jesus conquering his death with grace profoundly greater than if he has simply stayed alive. Returning to God is a victory over heartbreak.
During this week of Thanksgiving, we can give thanks to a God who uses all the crumbs of our failure for some good and who never stops seeking us, even in–especially in–our meanest and lowest moments.
Join the conversation. Has the aftermath of your heartbreak ever risen to a greater good than if it had never happened?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Learn more at www.AcrossTraditions.com