The found sheep, the found coin and the found sonSunday Mass Readings Podcast of Readings Video Reflections Lecturas y Comentarios Sunday Readings Bible StudyPrayer of the Hours Burning Question: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you."
Sunday Readings for Sep. 12, 2010 (24C)
By Fr. Orly Sapuay, M.S.
Along the way of Jesus' "Journey to Jerusalem (which began with Luke 9:51), we come to this chapter which has been called "the heart of the third gospel" Here is sounded loud and clear the theme of God's love and mercy for sinful human beings. Luke’s gospel can be called "the Gospel of the Outcast" or “the Gospel of the Lost”. God cares about those whom others tend to despise and condemn.
Indeed, in the proverbial "tax collectors and sinners" we have on one side of Jesus those most in need of love and mercy. They want to hear more. On the other side are the also-proverbial "pharisees and scribes," who likewise need love and mercy, but nothing more except to defend their beliefs. How we hear what Jesus says in response to that comment depends upon which side of him we sit. The challenge of listening to the Word is to sit on both sides - to hear as though we are the tax collector, the sinner, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son (who, of course, we are), as well as to listen from the perspective of the pharisee, the scribe, the 99 sheep, the 9 coins, the older brother (who, likewise, we are). At the same time, can we keep focused upon the shepherd, the woman, the waiting father - upon Jesus? Indeed!
Jesus begins with a rhetorical question. Would a shepherd really leave the rest of the flock? The modern concept of "triage" demands of prioritization of needs. You can't save everybody, otherwise nobody is saved. A shepherd risks losing everything (unless, of course, there is a very good sheep dog or another shepherd to remain behind). In this image do we have a picture of Israel, that one of ninety nine whom God has been "going after" since its formation in the wilderness? If so, the image shifts and other characters are included.
Note that in the parable the shepherd does all the work - seeking, finding, carrying, rejoicing, and creating a community of joy. What did the sheep do, besides wander off? Place this in tension with the theme of repentance that follows. There is "joy in heaven" over the "one sinner who repents.". Here there is an element of "double seek" included - the lost sheep is found and the sinner turns in the right direction. Both are important, though the stress here is upon the prior. One wonders, as the story closes, if the "ninety-nine righteous persons" really "need no repentance."
The question beginning the second parable is, indeed, a no-brainer. The risk is not in the seeking after the lost coin, but in identifying with the one who seeks - a woman, perhaps a poor woman. Certainly, if God is connected with the shepherd above, then what about with this cleaning woman? As before, it's the woman who does all the work in the parable - lighting the place, sweeping, searching carefully, finding, and creating a community of joy. Likewise, as with the story before it, the element of repentance is included. An inanimate object (the coin) does not turn toward the one who searches for it. But sinners can. This story is told only here in the other gospels, as is the case with the parable which follows.
The challenge of the third familiar story is to listen for something new each time we hear it" How you hear this parable depends upon whether you sit with the tax collectors and sinners, or the pharisees and scribes. Though it seems obvious, don't quickly associate one camp with the younger brother, and the other camp with the older. It may be so, but Jesus tends to flip stories around on us, thus tossing our world upside down. At its end, we are left wondering what will happen now. That's precisely where we enter the picture – How will we, prodigal or faithful, respond to God’s love and mercy?
What title do we give to this tale? The Prodigal Son? The Two Brothers? Or, the waiting Father. All apply, for we can clearly see ourselves in both sons. Furthermore, we catch a glimpse of God in the father. Note that here, as opposed to the preceding two parables, the one who "lost" the son to a distant country did not leave behind the ninety-nine and go out to find the one. No, he stayed home, but his eyes never left the horizon, and when he saw his son in the distance, he raced out and met him half-way. Here the tension between seeking and repentance culminate. However, please notice that the father pays no attention to the "words" of contrition. It's the act of turning that brings joy. If anything, the father later seeks out and finds the older brother who, it must be said, is lost in his own far country.
I suggest these parables would be better named the found sheep, the found coin and the found son. The point of the parables is that God’s love and mercy is always after us, looking for us searching for us for we are His joy and happiness. This is a theme to stay with : God’s joy in us! This makes me think of no one such as Julian of Norwich: “It is God’s will that we have heartfelt joy with him in our salvation. He wants to find great comfort and strength in it, and to be completely and joyfully taken up with it, by His grace. For we are his happiness, and he finds endless enjoyment in us and we shall, in Him, by His grace.”