A few years ago, I was in the habit of spending some time each day working on the Daily Commuter Puzzle in the Dallas Morning News.  This daily exercise did not consume an inordinate amount of time, and I could generally complete the puzzle without too much difficulty.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that this is the very reason why I did not do the New York Times crossword which also appeared in the paper each day.  “Failure to complete” was just far too frustrating and damaging to my ego.  Why put myself through that kind of emotional torture and intellectual humiliation? 

During “puzzle time” one evening, I found myself looking for a four-letter word in answer to the clue “among the missing.”  The answer turned out to be “lost.”  As I continued to do the crossword, I just couldn’t get the spiritual implications of that definition of “lost” out of my head.  When something is missing, it is not in its proper place; it is not where it belongs; it is not where it is supposed to be.  Is that what I thought about when I considered the spiritually lost?  Or did I fall into the trap and mindset of the scribes and Pharisees.  The reason those religious leaders objected so vehemently to Jesus’ time in the company of “sinners” was that they believed unequivocably that tax collectors, prostitutes, and others did not belong in the kingdom of God.  They were unclean, unholy, unfit, and immoral.  In the Pharisaic mindset, the lost weren’t “missing.”  They had no right to be there in the first place, and Jesus had no business spending time with them and teaching them.

Jesus challenged and rebuked this ungodly way of thinking in his three-fold parable recorded in Luke 15.  The lost sheep wasn’t where it was supposed to be.  It wasn’t where the shepherd wanted it to be.  It “belonged” with the other ninety-nine.  So the shepherd searched diligently until it was found, and he brought it back to the fold rejoicing.  Ditto, the woman who had lost one of her ten silver coins.  Her attitude was not that of, “Good riddance!  I never really liked that coin anyway!”  It was treasured; it was valued; it represented ten percent of her wealth.  It “belonged” to her and it was missing.  There was celebration when she found it.  That is precisely the way the father felt about his wayward son.  Though the prodigal had acted arrogantly and wastefully and was suffering the consequences of his own foolish choices, the father never stopped “missing” him.  When his son’s heart and feet turned toward home, the father ran to meet him, embraced and kissed him, gave him a robe for his back, a ring for his hand, and sandals for his feet, and called for a feast.  He would not hear any of this “hired man” nonsense!  “You are my son!  You are back where you belong!”  The older brother just didn’t get it.  Do I?

“We had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found,” (Luke 15:32).  He was no longer among the missing!