Vol. 6 No.1 DoM Gospel Reflection
24TH Sunday in Ordinary Time —11 September 2016
Two weeks ago Chapter 14 of Luke’s gospel described a supper where one of the leading Pharisees has invited Jesus. It was the Sabbath and the Pharisees watched Jesus carefully, looking for reasons to discredit him as they see how his charisma has grown with the people . The Pharisees, to their disgust, had to listen to parables about seating arrangements at table (the first last and the last first), hosts who should invite to dinner those who cannot repay as they are too poor, and the bridal party guests who dishonor the host by not coming or by dressing inappropriately even when provided correct attire. Even though the Pharisees know Jesus was referring to them to change their ways in these parables, the use of these parables precluded them from accusing Jesus of any wrong doing.
The Gospel for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary time, Luke 15,again finds Jesus sharing parables with his audience of Pharisees, tax collectors and sinners. Three parables are presented: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son. Before the gospel, the first reading from Exodus speaks of God’s frustration with the “stiff necked” Israelites. As God and Moses meet on the mountain, the people build a molten calf to worship. God tells Moses he will just have to start over with Moses as these people are incorrigible. Moses acknowledges God’s covenant promise to Abraham, Issac and Israel, begging mercy for the Israelites. God relents and keeps His covenant. God is merciful. God values each of us.
In the second reading Timothy expresses his thankfulness for God’s mercy to him as he is a sinner. The mercy of God is stressed again. God loves His people.
The Gospel presents three examples of mercy and forgiveness. The “Lost Sheep” story describes to a pastoral audience that this shepherd is willing to risk leaving 99 valuable assets (sheep) to look for one lost sheep. This sheep is brought back to the flock on the shoulders of the shepherd. What love is expressed by the shepherd bearing the burden of the weight of this runaway sheep. This sheep who left on his own, causing disruption, is welcomed back. Again the parable expresses God’s mercy without conditions. Each sheep is valuable.
The “Lost Coin” parable describes a woman whose lost coin would represent a full day’s wages to Jesus’ audience. When she finds it there is so much joy that she cannot contain it. Such joy must be shared with friends. LuKe doesn’t note how the coin was lost just the joy of having it back. The moral of this story is that God is joyful when His people return.
The third story of the Prodigal Son is found only in Luke’s gospel. A parable of a father and his two sons is packed full of rich meaningful messages. It is a familiar passage many of us remember hearing as children and as adults. At different points in our faith journey, this Prodigal Son parable might find us identifying with one or the other son.
The younger son says to his father I would like my share of the inheritance, which would be one third of the father’s wealth in Jewish tradition. This request is an indirect way of wishing the father to die so the son could have money; an unseemly request at best. However, the father agrees to this unusual request and the son leaves to enjoy the world’s pleasures. His abandonment of all constraints eventually leaves him broke, friendless, working for a Gentile feeding unclean pigs, hungry. He hits what we might call “rock bottom” today. In his misery he remembers his past. His father’s servants live a better life than his current one. He decides to return home to confess his sins against heaven and against his father, saying he no longer deserves to be his son.
The father must have been yearning for the return of his son as he notices him coming from afar. He runs to meet him, embrace him and kiss him. The feelings of unconditional love fill the father. He rushes to gives his son a robe and ring—symbols of honor and authority. He supplies sandals, noting he is not a slave without shoes, but a member of the family. A feast is prepared to celebrate his son returning from spiritual death to life.
The elder son, heading home from working in the fields, hears the party and asked what is going on. A servant says his brother has returned. The elder son is angry and refuses to join the feast.
Again the father comes to meet his elder son where he is. The father says how much he loves his son and that all he has is his, which is literally true. He explains how getting the younger son home is too joyful not to share. He was spiritually dead and now lives.
Luke ends the parable there. I wonder what the family dynamics were on Day 2. Do the two brothers reconcile? Can the younger son forgive himself for the depth of his sins and move forward on his faith journey? Can the elder son ever accept such generosity and mercy as the right response? Does the Pharisee audience feel incensed as Jesus‘s stories promote mercy and not justice?
Maybe as we have listened to this parable over the years we have thought ourselves to be like one or the other brother. Sometimes maybe we are like the one who makes poor choices, ignoring family responsibilities seeking only our pleasures. Maybe we relate sometimes to the son who obeys all the rules but feels like a loser when the other son is so easily forgiven, preferring justice to forgiveness.
Both sons have issues. All people have issues. Yet, God the Father like this father in the parable loves us all. It is difficult, I believe, to see Jesus as more merciful toward us than we are to ourselves and each other. God’s magnanimous position is so counter intuitive to us. Yet as we accept God’s graces to forgive ourselves and others, we find the peace God wants for us. It is a never ending work in progress as we must forgive “seventy times seven”. Forgiving is a never ending struggle as we all are sinners. Repetitive forgiving, especially for those people closes to us, is difficult. We know God understands this struggle as God tells us so many times to forgive and to be joyful.
Page 340 of the Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion booklet explains this forgiving so succinctly. “The beatitude of the merciful is offered to us daily as we chose between a justice that suits our impressionable and often peremptory taste, and a generous, kind and understanding justice. The struggle for mercy goes on unceasingly in our hearts.”