September 11, 2022: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel: Luke 15:1-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. “Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So, he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to send the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’” So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servant, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
(This week, there are two versions for the Gospel. Luke 15:1-32 and Luke 15:1-10. This reflection focuses on the latter).
We frequently find Jesus in the company of those judged, by religious leaders and others, to be irredeemable sinners. Indeed today, those marginalized as a result of transgressions, ethnicity, illness, gender, occupation or religion, have drawn near to listen to him. In his presence, they not only were welcomed, they are also received, something no one else could or would offer them. Through his stories about a shepherd and a woman, he offered them an experience of God’s abundant love for them. The parable focused on two common people losing an everyday part of their life: One a sheep, one a coin. Though ordinary objects, these were treasured by them and both searched diligently because they sought to be reunited with what they prized. Finding them, they shared their overwhelming joy with their community. Can we imagine how these tax collectors and sinners felt, that at the table of Jesus, they were welcomed and cherished and this community, the one that Jesus proclaimed as the in breaking of the reign of God, was overjoyed by their presence? Let’s not forget how this parable must have sounded to the Pharisees and scribes who opposed Jesus’ inclusive table fellowship.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Perhaps this week, we might ask ourselves: How am I doing when it comes to joy? Do I express the joy of the Gospel? Does my faith community extend this joy of the reign of God to all people? What can I do to assist in making this my faith community’s mission?