Offering a Return

By: Emily Meeks

A friend asked me to attend a Torah study at her synagogue. I was delighted to participate, to study Hebrew Scripture in conversation with people I would not typically see in my weekly church circle. We started with Deuteronomy 22. 

I fumbled through flipping pages from right to left of the JPS Tanakh containing the English and Hebrew side by side. The opening verses recount God’s covenant with his people and include clear instruction on one’s responsibility regarding a neighbor’s stray ox or sheep – to keep it safe until its owner has returned. Three times over the course of three verses the concept of the Hebrew word, ‛âlam, is used. The rabbi offers context, interpreting: Do not hide from returning or caring for what is lost.  

This discussion reminded of an experience just a few days previously, of coming up to an intersection on my bike and seeing a cell phone in the bike lane.  I wanted to be home, but I stopped anyway to investigate. I picked up the phone and was surprised to find it unlocked. I searched for an ICE contact but nothing appeared. Most of the recent numbers dialed were businesses. “Try favorites?” another cyclist mentioned. I dialed the first human name in favorites and wondered if someone would pick up. When a voice answered, my words tumbled out to explain who I was and why I was calling. The voice assured me she knew the person (ironically an ex-wife, still on good terms) and could help return the phone. 

I will never forget the woman’s expression when she picked up the phone. She was surprised that I had taken the time to find her. To me, it didn’t seem like a big deal. And yet, in the midst of it all, I had trusted her – a complete stranger – to meet me in front of my own house. It was our shared sense of knowing I was returning what was lost to its right place – a moment when usual stumbling blocks of fear or distrust might otherwise get in the way. 

In sharing a part of my story, the study group discussed obligation – what makes some ride past while others feel compelled, even obligated, to stop? What does this insight tell us about what God envisions for us in attending to the concerns of others? 

My encounter was not that of returning a stray ox or lost sheep, but a phone. A phone connected me to ancient times. Had I kept pedaling, nothing in my life would have been altered. Still, I assumed the temporary role of guardian, to help another. 

I left the study to attend a funeral. As I pedaled from synagogue to cathedral, I recalled the words in the gospels about lost things and the sense of joy when the subject returns is found. I looked up words in Luke 15 where Jesus describes three points of “lost and found” through parables: “he joyfully puts it [a sheep] on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5-6); “upon finding the lost coin, the woman calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me (Luke 15:9);’” and when the lost son is found, the father says, “Let’s have a feast and celebrate…he was lost and is found (Luke 15:23-24).” 

I prepared for Sunday’s lectionary texts and considered the synchronicity that these pericopes would be the text for Homecoming Sunday. The priest shared context for the Greek word for lost – apóllymi – a verb that means to lose or even cause destruction. God delights in our return from being lost and is relentlessly calling us to radical union and interconnection. No matter how far we stray, we are never separated from the love of God. We, in turn, can be connection points for others along the journey to know this love through our actions. 

Jesus’ words in Luke 15 help me understand the joy experienced when we show up and take a position of watchful noticing and responding – not disappearing or hiding from – to help others (and ourselves) make a return to connection and community. 

Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.

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