Sept. 15, 2013
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10

The Pharisees and scribes in today’s Gospel challenge Jesus to answer a question that is implied in their comments to one another. Why does Jesus welcome sinners? In the way of a good teacher, Jesus answers in story. He actually tells three stories that we call parables. Too often, we focus only on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The answer to the Pharisees’ question is found in the tales of a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son and a lost brother.

The sheep was stupid, the coin unaware, the son just plain prodigal, and the brother, narcissistic. At one time or another, the descriptions fit all of us. Still, God is so merciful that like a shepherd, he abandons all else and comes to find us, so merciful that he turns life upside down to find us, so merciful that he welcomes us as a loved child and challenges us to welcome one another. The stories taken together are powerful reminders that God loves those for whom others find little use. And so should we.

The sheep that has strayed from the fold is helpless. Like many who have wandered away from God, it cannot find its way back. The shepherd must seek out the sheep just as God must find those who have strayed from him.

The 10 silver coins probably refer to a necklace with ten silver coins worn by brides as they prepared for their weddings. The woman might have been satisfied with the remaining nine coins but she feared that the lost coin would be forever lost and her dowry would be less.

Most of us are willing to cast ourselves in the role of the prodigal son. After all, we know that we are sinners and we know that God is a forgiving father. The story has a happy ending for us. God loves and God forgives. But, the story is not finished. The elder son refuses to accept or even acknowledge his brother. He certainly has no intention of celebrating his return. Like many of us, he sees himself as always doing the right thing. If the elder brother lived today, he would have been the righteous one. He would have looked with disdain at those whose Catholicism didn’t match his. The elder son brings the question back to the Pharisees and to us. Jesus illustrates the difference between those who repented and the Pharisees and scribes who refused to accept them. When the father tells the son how he should feel about his brother, Jesus tells us how to treat those we see as sinners.

Each parable ends with rejoicing. It is not just the shepherd who rejoices, not only the woman who celebrates, not only the father who feasts. The celebration is a gathering of the entire community. It is a symbol of the eschatological banquet.

Today we gather at the altar aware of the generous love of God. We rejoice in his care for us.