Where’s Bert?

by Janice Alonso

I’m blessed to not only have a healthy and beautiful granddaughter, but also one who has a quick intellect, so sharp that nothing gets by her. It’s been a long time since I’ve had experience with two-and-a-half-year-olds; however, she does seem to be more aware than most. A while back my son and daughter-in-law took a trip, and my husband and I cared for her. The first night she was with us, I’d wanted to make sure she felt comfortable being away from her bed and familiar surroundings. She loves the Sesame Street characters, especially Elmo, so I gathered all the miniature figures I could find. Before bedtime I arranged them across both pillows, placing Elmo front and center. It looked like a sleepover in Muppetville.

After her “tubby,” a few stories, and some snuggling, I carried her into the bedroom.

As we walked, I whispered in her ear, “Mimi invited some of your friends. They’re waiting for you in bed.”

Her large blue eyes rounded and her head craned forward to see who those friends could possibly be. When we arrived in the room, she squealed with delight. I lowered her onto the bed. She rolled and tumbled, greeting the Count, Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, and Grover. She hugged and kissed each one, then paused and looked at me.

“Where’s Bert?” she asked.

I looked across at the little guys. Lo and behold, sure enough, I’d forgotten my old buddy Bert! I picked up Elmo.

I danced Elmo’s little red feet on the bed as I sang, “Lookie, lookie, lookie . . . look at me . . . it’s your best pal Elmo . . . see, see, see!”

She laughed, grabbled Elmo, and hugged him tightly. “Where’s Bert?” she repeated.

I lifted Cookie Monster and shook him. “It’s me, Cookie Monster and tonight I’m not eating cookies . . . I’m eating your tummy.” I rubbed the furry figure against her midsection.

She giggled and thrashed her legs against the bed. I laughed, too, until she sat upright and asked again: “Where’s Bert?”

My eyes scanned the little Muppets’ faces: as adorable as each one was, none of them was Bert.

My heart sank. “Bert’s gone,” I said. “He’s spending the night away.”

She didn’t cry, but her lips tugged downward. “Bert’s gone?”

The Bible is filled with stories about lost souls. The best-known tales are the ones in Luke 15. The chapter begins with Jesus dining with a group of “undesirables.” The Pharisees and teachers mumble, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Jesus then tells three parables about lost items: a sheep, a coin, and a son. Taken together these passages make up a trilogy about loss and redemption.

In the first story (Lk 15: 3-7), Jesus poses two questions to listeners. If any of you has 100 sheep and loses one, wouldn’t he leave the 99 in open country and search for the one that is missing? Then once the sheep is found, will he not rejoice as he carries it home on his shoulders?

In the second story (Lk 15:8-10) Jesus tells about a woman who has ten silver coins and loses one. Although she has more silver coins, she cannot rest until she recovers the one that has been misplaced. She searches everywhere staying up so late that she must light a lamp to continue her search. Once the coin is found, she calls her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her.

The third parable (Lk 15:11-32) is better known as the prodigal son. A man has two sons. The younger one asks for his share of the inheritance and leaves for distance places. He squanders all he has been given, lives in squalor, and later returns home. Upon his arrival, the father kills the fattened calf and has a feast in honor of this son.

The lost-and-found part of each parable followed by rejoicing and celebrating make for good stories. The difficult part is the position of the 99 sheep and the steadfast, loyal older son. This element of the story may make some want to ask, “Hey, what about the ones who did the right thing? Don’t they get some recognition for not straying?” On the surface it does seem to be a bit unfair.

If you look at verses 31-32, the father, in speaking to the older son, makes it clear for us when he explains, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again: he was lost and is found.”

In our human world we see situations in finite, tunnel-vision pictures. God’s vision is infinite and all encompassing. There is a never-ending supply of love and forgiveness. The fact that one person has sinned and been forgiven does not lessen another’s “share of the inheritance.” God wants everyone to be found. God’s love for other sinners does not diminish God’s love for each and every one of us as individuals.

Jesus’ parables are meaningful today because they are relevant no matter what time we live in . . . only the names change. I admit that to relegate poor Bert to the role of the wretched sinner as in the prodigal son stretches the point. My granddaughter’s concern for his whereabouts, however, was every bit as real as the man for his sheep, the woman for her coin, and the father for his son. Her concern for Bert’s absence didn’t decrease Elmo’s special place in her heart.

Bert has joined the ranks of his fellow Sesame Street friends, so the next time my granddaughter asks, “Where’s Bert?” Mimi can answer, “Bert is present and accounted for!”

Perhaps we’ll celebrate with cookies and milk.

Janice Alonso lives in Georgia.
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