Introduction to the Celebration
Each of us can stand here because the Lord has sought us out and forgiven us. We call Jesus is ‘our saviour’, but we could just as easily call him ‘our pardon’ or ‘our reconciliation’ or ‘the One who reveals the Father’s love to us’. Now we gather to join with Jesus in offering thanks to the Father for his love, and to grow in our awareness of how we are sought out and welcomed home by the Christ.
The three parables are part of the basic memory of Christians about the content of the good news, so much so that we could go so far as to say that if someone did not have these stories in his/her store of memory, then they would be deprived of some of the keys to how Christians view God. So it is important that people hear these together as Luke preached them, but also hear their subtle differences: the first two stories are addressed to the cause of the welcome the Jesus offered sinners:
There is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over the majority which have no need for repentance, while the third story is directed at the sense of indignation of those who feel that it is their constancy rather that the repentance of those who have strayed that deserves reward. Pausing for a second after the introductory verses, then after the first two parables, and then finally reading the verses, from ‘He was angry’, in a slower and more mournful tone, can help hearing these differences.
The shorter version of the today’s gospel
Given the importance of all three stories, and because Luke intended them to be appreciated as a unit, it is regrettable that the compliers of the Lectionary offered this inappropriate shorter version. If time is that pressing a feature of the assembly, then jettison in this order: 1 the second reading; 2 the psalm; 3 the homily; 4 ask why bother celebrating if people are confusing the Eucharistic Banquet with so-called ‘Fast Food’.
General Textual Comments
Verses 1 to 3 give us an overall picture of the kind of person Jesus was – and thus an image of God.
We follow that path in our meditation: we recognise and celebrate human beings who were images of Jesus for us, and allow them to reveal God to us.
In meditating on these verses, we are free to identify either(a) with Jesus: who are the great people who draw the outcasts and are criticized for it? or
(b) with the “tax collectors and sinners:” when were we deeply touched at being
welcomed by someone we looked up to? or
(c) with “the scribes and Pharisees”: when did we criticize a member of our community for associating with people we considered “tax collectors and sinners”?
We must enter into the literary form of the parables, experiencing them as dramatic, imaginative stories, so that we can identify with the characters at the feeling level.
The two parables are complementary in that the “seeker” is male in the first parable and female in the second. Both are wonderfully portrayed as well-rounded persons, however – no stereotyping here. The shepherd is very tender, the woman efficient and business-like. Though the “seekers” are the main characters, we can be imaginative enough to identify with the lost sheep or the lost coin.
Don’t hurry your meditation. Linger over the two movements. The search first, the feeling of being lost on the one hand, the frantic search on the other. Then there is the moment of finding, which can also be meditated on from the perspective of either the finder or the found. Both parables stress that the joy is not private but poured out and shared with the whole community.
In the well-known poem “Footprints”, a man dreams that as he walks through life, there are two sets of footprints behind him – except at those times when he feels lost. He questions the Lord who replies: “During your times of trial, there is only one set of footprints, because at those times I carried you.”
“There is greater rejoicing… ” In the gospels Jesus always seems to prefer sinners to the just. We must not try to understand this (or explain it) rationally. Jesus invites us to follow the parable way, remembering our experience as parents or teachers.
Like every loving parent, God loves his children equally and always, but he knows that there are times when they feel “lost”, and are in greater need of care and reassurance than the others.
The sheep that was lost had broken away from the herd, symbolizing those who take risks, dare to question, to seek new ways. The “ninety-nine who have no need of repentance” are the complacent; they do not trust enough to take risks. They do not get lost but they achieve nothing either. No wonder there is “greater rejoicing” over “the lost”. Experience teaches us too that those who think they have it all do not learn. We know the paradox: we can only be found when we are lost.
We have already heard the story of the Prodigal Son this year (in Lent) so why again? The simple answer is that we can’t hear it enough, for the image of God that is put to us here is one that we do not easily believe in. While it may be the best known of Jesus’ parables it is frequently thought of as being a story for sinners to persuade them to repent. However, in its context in ch 15 of Luke the story is told by Jesus to the Pharisees who are grumbling and complaining about him keeping company with such people. The parable is as much about the relationship between the father and the older brother. He is the one who feels hard done by and is probably the person that most of us would identify with in the story. We like the idea of a merciful God but we get upset when that mercy is shown to those we consider undeserving.
The gospel and readings for today all point us in the direction of the mercy of God that this wonderful parable celebrates. The temptation of the Israelites in the wilderness was to forget the God of the Covenant who wanted them to go forward in faith, and to opt rather for the familiar religions which appeared to offer security and prosperity. These readings are a reminder that the story of biblical faith is not one of riches and prosperity for those who believe but one of developing a loving trust in the God who wants us to walk in his ways and who lifts us up when we fall.
1. Given that these parables are only found in one gospel, it is a tribute to their immense power as stories that they have been central to Christian imagination down the centuries. When we remember that the only stories or incidents from the time of Jesus’s public ministry that are equally well remembered are the Good Samaritan story (Lk 10) and the Zacchaeus incident (Lk 17) – and these too are only found in Luke – we get an insight into one of the key messages of Luke’s preaching. God is mercy, God is forgiveness, God is reconciliation, God is peace, and God is love.
2. And when we gather as Christians, this is clearly something we want to hear: we desire mercy, forgiveness, a fresh start, and a welcome home. How we know that we want to hear it is the way we listen and react to this gospel.
3. That leaves us with a question: if this is a central message of Jesus – and it is – why is it not a message that people who are not Christians link with Christianity? This discrepancy between ‘our core-message’ and ‘perceptions of us’ reveals something very important to us. Jesus not only came to reveal the Father’s love, but sent us his Spirit so that we would become agents of reconciliation. He came to bring us peace, but called us to become peacemakers. He came to seek out the lost, but calls us to welcome the outcasts and the poor. The message of the gospel is always two-sided: he reconciles us, we must reconcile others. Jesus is the centre of reconciliation in the universe; his followers must be little local centres of reconciliation throughout the universe. Alas, we are better at seeking reconciliation for ourselves than being reconcilers; better at wanting peace than being peacemakers; happier at being welcomed home than offering a welcome to the stranger.
4. Where can we see this two-sided message of reconciliation in a nut-shell? In the ‘Our Father’: we pray ‘forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us: Yet we are very quick to think of how we need to ask God for his forgiveness; how often do we think of our need to reconcile others?
5. We have just read three stories about the nature of God; but they are also challenges to our nature.
*********Scriptural Reflections Prayer
Lord, we remember times when we found ourselves in companywhere we felt out of place:
– poor in a wealthy home
– young in the company of adults
– our first day at work and we were lonely and alienated
– something we had done came to light making us feel ashamed of ourselves
– a conversation was way above our heads.
You sent someone like Jesus who gave us a warm welcomeand made us feel at home, ate with us, conversed with us as equals,
just as important as the scribes and Pharisees who were around.
Lord, forgive us for the times when we are contentto remain with those of our social class, race, religion, academic world.
We thank you for people who break out of these narrow confines
and mix freely with those whom we tend to ignore.
Our first response is to be surprised even angry, to complain.
We recognise now that it is Jesus among us.
“The sheep may be lost in fog or wandering aimlessly but the shepherd is always in search of it. No matter how desperate our plight, we may always rely on the love which will never tire of seeking us out, whatever may be the burden of sin or guilt we carry.” Cardinal Basil Hume
Lord, we thank you for the times when we feel we are failures,not worthy of being loved,
we withdraw from those closest to us, lost in self-pity,
like a sheep wandering around the hills,
or a coin on the floor hidden in the dust,
and you send us people who seek us out
– spiritual directors, parents, teachers, friends.
They leave their ninety-nine other preoccupations and give us their undivided attention,
take our burdens on themselves, like a shepherd taking a lost sheep on his shoulders.
They seem so happy to be with us
that we feel we are more important to them
than all those who never gave them any trouble.
Lord, these people reveal to us how you love us.
Lord, we are so afraid of taking risks,of being separated from the rest of the flock, of getting lost.
Fear is the reason why we find it difficult– to forgive those who have hurt us;
– to reach out to those of a different race or ethnic group;
– to explore new ways of prayer;
– to commit ourselves to a new relationship.
Remind us that we can trust life, people, you in the last resort.
Even if we get lost, you always send someone, a word, to come after us,
even if this means leaving the ninety-nine in the wilderness.
Lord, we thank you that you understand us parents.
You know how we fuss over the one child who is always in troublelike a woman who has lost her money and lights a lamp
and sweeps out her house, searching thoroughly until she finds it.
Our other children complain that we are always leaving them in the lurch
and going after the one who is missing.
But it is not that we don’t love them equally;we would do the same for every one of them.
It is just that, here and now, we feel more joy over the one child we can bring back
than over the others who are safe.
People who are ruled by logical argument, like the Pharisees and the scribes,cannot understand – but you do,
and all of us who have experienced love.
Lord, our world is run by cold, calculating logic,so that losing one sheep is of little importance
if we have ninety-nine others in the wilderness;
and it is not worth lighting a lamp, sweeping out the house
and searching thoroughly for one drachma out of ten.
You want us build a different world,founded on love,
where there is more rejoicing over one repentant person
than over ninety-nine virtuous ones who have no need of repentance,
and great rejoicing among your angels over one person who was lost and is now found.
1. Mgr David Rubino
Forgiving others as God forgives us
Purpose: When and how we ask for forgiveness to return to our God is our choice. Today’s Gospel reminds us that when we make that choice, our Father is the first to forgive us, the first to welcome us home, and the first to restore our place in God’s family. The only catch is that we need to take that first step towards forgiveness. God has not moved away from us. We have moved away from God. And once we decide to ask forgiveness and return to our God, the Lord will run to us, and do the rest.
He does not have a name. He is a hard worker. He refused to join the welcome home party for his brother. He insulted his father by arguing with him in front of the guests.
Who is this mysterious figure?
He is the older brother, and his actions trigger in us the question, why is ho so cranky? The older brother’s plight is not uncommon. We may even know how he feels because, at times, we have felt like him. We do the volunteer work, and someone else gets the praise. For all of our efforts at our job, we get the same raise as someone whose hardest task during the day was punching the clock. We sacrifice for our family, and no one recognizes our efforts, or even seems to care.
We know from our own experience, how the older brother must feel when his younger prodigal brother returns, having done nothing but leaving home, spending money foolishly, and abandoning all the work to his brother.
The reason was to demonstrate a point. A significant break with Middle Eastern custom was the father’s action upon seeing the son. In the Middle East culture, old age was seen as a blessing, and reflected certain cultural norms, and ways of behavior. Seeing his son in the distance, he runs to embrace him. He does not walk; he runs. For an older person to run was a significant loss of status, rank, and dignity as the father would have had to pull up his tunic, expose his bare legs, and run. The father’s behavior was totally beneath the understanding of how “senior citizens” behaved. Surely aware of the customs of the day, he still ran to his prodigal son, risking harsh criticism from his guests for his behavior.
Regardless of these customs, the father embraces the prodigal brother in an embrace of forgiveness. He puts a ceremonial robe on him, signifying his union again with the family, put sandals on his feet, recalling his son’s freedom, and a signet ring with, most likely, the family crest, indicating his oneness in the family. Totally and without reservation, the father forgives the prodigal son, and welcomes him home. And then throws a lavish party adding, in the older brother’s mind, insult to injury.
In the middle of this party and celebrating the return of his son, the guests at that festive celebration could see and hear the exchange between the father and the older son. Displaying such an attitude of ill will by the elder son to the father could embarrass the father. Hearing his other son’s complaint, the father expresses his constant love for him, and reiterates his promise of the transfer of the estate to the older brother.
The father, then, totally forgives the older brother. He behaves toward the other brother with the same spirit of forgiveness and acceptance and love as he does towards the prodigal son.
What is interesting is the parable leaves us hanging. The parable closes with the father’s plea to his other son. We do not know if the father’s plea persuaded the other brother to join the party. Does the older brother decide to welcome home his younger brother? Does he leave the estate? It is up to us to craft our own ending.
It is equally left for us to decide when we ask for our heavenly Father’s forgiveness.
Most of us probably have a little of both brothers in ourselves. We may not always use wisely our God-given gifts and talents, or we become envious of what others in our circle of family are given. In the process of misusing resources, or being blinded by our own pride, our distance from our God seems to exponentially grow, as does our need of forgiveness grow.
1. Andrew Greeley:
This story should be called the parable of the indulgent father. The man is really quite insanely good. He has these two miserable rotten sons and he loves them beyond all reason. The one who leaves home is not only a spendthrift and a lecher, he is a faker, a phony and a liar. He has no interest in his father’s love, only in his own comfort. He plans to return to his father, feed him a cock and bull story about his sorrow and then collect the good life that he so foolishly left behind. Does the father know the son is a fraud? How can he help but know it. The young man has been trying to play these games all his life. Yet the father embraces him and cuts short his dishonest plea for pardon. The other son is mean, narrow, rigid, resentful, as ungenerous as his father is generous. But the father loves him too and promises him all his possessions.
As we ponder the story, we wonder why the father puts up with either of these unsavory characters. The answer? He loves them both. He loves them so much that his behavior is crazy by human standards. Any human father who so spoiled his children would be dismissed as daft. But that’s the way God loves us.
Once upon a time there was a mother who had twins when her next oldest was a senior in high school. She was surprised but happy. She loved all her children. The twins were so cute and so lively that she figured they’d keep her young. Alas for her, the twins were monsters. They fought with one another, they fought with other children. They lied, they stole, they broke things deliberately. Whenever they outnumbered another child they beat up on that child and then told their mother than the other kid had started the fight. They never studied in school. They tormented all their teachers, they were mean and nasty to their parents and to every other adult they encountered, including their older brothers and sisters.
They started drinking in sixth grade, and smoking pot in eighth grade. Their mother and father did their best but they simply could not control the two adorable but vicious little hellions. Neither could anyone else. The summer they were fourteen, they stole their father’s Benz and destroyed it totally. They ended up in the hospital where they made life miserable for the nurses and the doctors.
The parish priest suggested to their mother that she send them off to boarding school. (He thought that they should go to a place which had barbed wire and cut glass on their walls.) But, no the mother said, I would miss them so much if they weren’t home with us.
Why asked the priest? Because I’m their mother and I love them.
*************The Gospel reading begins with these words: Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:1-2)
That is the framework for all that follows in chapter fifteen: the story of a shepherd and his sheep, of a widow and her coins, of a man and his two sons. It is important to remember the situation which prompted Jesus to tell these stories and to ask - "whom do I identify with in this situation?" That's what we do when we read a novel or watch a movie. We tend to identify with someone in it. So, which group or character do you identify with in today's gospel reading?
With Jesus, the good guy, who tries to straighten out the religious folks? Who calls into question all they believe? Who reaches out and loves everyone, especially the most unloved?
With the Pharisees, the ones who rightly saw the dangers of too close an association with the "wrong crowd." For what parent has not worried about a child falling in with the "wrong crowd"? But here the Pharisees go beyond looking out for people. They are convinced that they and they alone understand God and man's relationship to Him. They are right and no one else.
With the tax collectors and sinners, those traitors, the tax collectors who worked for the Romans, robbing their own people? With the sinners, the people of the land who never attended synagogue and seemed to lack even basic morality?
1. Which one are you?2. What ought we to do?
___________________________The gospel is not a tablet of ink, but a table of food around which everyone is invited to sit down together and eat, drink and dream -- for tomorrow we act.
A few weeks ago we marked the fiftieth anniversary (1963-2013) of Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. The power of that proclamation, the timely words of one man spoken at the one right moment before the enormous crowd gathered before the Lincoln Memorial, provided the "tipping point" for the civil rights movement and for decades of legal and social changes to come. The power of one man at one moment, the potency of that one speech, was a beacon of change and hope for the nation and the entire world.
But it almost didn't happen. King was determined to keep his remarks brief that day. Toward that end he had a carefully written out speech that was to go no more than ten minutes. At the end of nine minutes King was done with his script and the crowd was still waiting for . . . something.
Then from behind him came a stage-whispering voice. It was the magnificent, soul-stirring voice of the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Like a kid tugging on a parent's coattails, Jackson leaned forward and urged Dr. King to "go on," to keep talking. "Tell them about your dream, Martin," her voice insisted. "Tell them about your dream."
So King did. He cut away from his text, went off-script and climbed into history as he spoke from his heart and soul. King's "dream" became the dream and desire of generations to come. Mahalia's one voice told Martin to "change his plan." Martin's one voice then told the people to "change the world." One speech changed the world. One person changed the world...
_____________________2. We Have All Been Lost
A marine tells about a field exercise he was participating in at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His squad was on a night patrol making their way through some thick brush. Halfway through, they realized they'd lost their map. The patrol navigator informed the rest of the squad that their odds were 1 in 359 that they'd succeed in getting back to their base of operations.
"How did you come up with that figure?" someone asked, "one chance in 359?""Well," he replied, "one of the degrees on the compass has to be right."
Those marines were lost. One chance in 359 is not very good. Fortunately it was just a training exercise, but they were lost just the same. We've all been lost at one time or another. That's part of the human condition.
King Duncan, www.Sermons.com
______________________3. Lost and Found
Everyone has lost something at one time or another. There is even a website complete with mobile app, www.lostandfound.com, that acts as a global 'lost and found' box. Users can report items missing and users can report items found. It is a good example of how technology can help people connect in a useful way. This is a gateway site for all of the physical things that can be retrieved and returned to their rightful owners. According to their statistics, about twice as many objects have been reported lost as have been reported found in the U.S. So, the site's users are losing things at twice the rate they are finding them.
Haven't we all had the experience of losing things that we know deep down we will never recover? Depending on the situation, we can feel disappointed, heartbroken, hopeless, or simply discouraged by our own inability to keep up with things. Isn't it a wonderful relief to know that we will never fall into the 'Lost Forever' category? Isn't it reassuring to know that God will never give up on us? Let us include a word of thanks in our prayers this week to acknowledge how grateful we are for that kind of gracious love.
____________________4. Is Your Church a Museum or Mission?
An inner city church, located in an area of the downtown where there were few residents, was forced to a decision. A large corporation was offering them a great deal of money for their site, on which the corporation wanted to put a parking lot. The money would enable the church to move to another part of the inner city where they would find many more people to serve. Even though this was exciting to some of the congregation, other members were resistant to the idea. They pointed out that the church was the guardian of a building whose history and architecture reached back into the early part of the nineteenth century. Denominational history had been made in that building, and some of the grand figures of the church had passed its portals.
Eventually the congregation decided to sell the site and make the move to a new building in a teeming inner-city neighborhood. The pastor who was with this congregation through all this upheaval said, "We had to decide whether we wanted to be in a museum or in mission." They couldn't have it both ways. It meant either staying on their site, glorying in their past history and serving a few people, or giving up their past and gearing themselves to a significant ministry among the city's people. They opted for mission status over museum status.
Something of this same struggle is indicated in this scripture passage. The Pharisees and scribes came down on the side of museum religion. They wanted attention given to those who were stable, pious and not a liability if invited to the country club. Theirs was a "let's have our synagogue programs be for us dependable, like-minded types," as some present-day church-growth advocates. Jesus disappointed them by insisting that the issue was one of mission: to reach out to those who needed great mercy, lessons in etiquette, social graces, and perhaps a bath. Paying attention to these "lost" persons would change the comfortable fellowship the scribes and Pharisees enjoyed at the synagogue, to say nothing of putting a dent into its budget.
Wallace H. Kirby, If Only..., CSS Publishing Company.
__________________5. God Loves Me
There is a wonderful story about Maya Angelou. She is an active member now of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. She wrote that years ago when she first came to San Francisco as a young woman she became sophisticated. She said that was what you were supposed to do when you go to San Francisco, you become sophisticated. And for that reason she said she became agnostic. She thought the two went together. She said that it wasn't that she stopped believing in God, just that God no longer frequented the neighborhoods that she frequented.
She was taking voice lessons at the time. Her teacher gave her an exercise where she was to read out of some religious pamphlet. The reading ended with these words: "God loves me." She finished the reading, put the pamphlet down. The teacher said, "I want you to read that last sentence again." So she picked it up, read it again, this time somewhat sarcastically, then put it down again. The teacher said, "Read it again." She read it again. Then she described what happened. "After about the seventh repetition I began to sense there might be some truth in this statement. That there was a possibility that God really loves me, Maya Angelou. I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all. I knew if God loved me, I could do wonderful things. I could do great things. I could learn anything. I could achieve anything. For what could stand against me with God, since one person, any person, with God form a majority now."
Mark Trotter, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
_______________________________6. Which Color Would You Be?
Ralph Milton tells of the teacher who, for reasons of her own, asked the kids one day, "If all the bad children were painted red and all the good children were painted green, which color would you be?"
Think about it. What color would you be? Red or Green? It is a tough question isn't it when you pose only two options.
One very wise child answered the teacher: "Striped"
The reason I am going on about this point is simple. It seems to me that in the frame of the story - everyone but Jesus is striped. It is the same in the world today. We are a curious combination of the lost and the found. We are striped. We are, in some sense, not completely complete. It is hard language, this language of lost and found, especially for folks in the middle, as most of us are most of the time. It seems too absolute.
Rarely are we completely lost. And rarely are we completely found. There is always a part of us that needs to be dragged and cajoled into the light, and there is always a part of us that is already there in the light. For some it is more and for some it is less, but always some part.
The wonderful thing is - that God wants us to enter fully into the light. The wonderful thing is that God wants to bless us all richly to keep us safe, to make us strong, to help us be like a Shepherd who really cares for his sheep, or like a poor widow who really values all her coins.
Richard Fairchild, Seeking the Lost
______________________7. The Church Is No Place for Joy
In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn't gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother's handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theater off Broadway said, "Stop grinning! You're in a church!" With that, she gave him a belt on his hind side and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, "that's better," and returned to her prayers. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God, the God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us.
__________________8. It Is a Big Ocean
H.H. Staton in his book, "A Guide to the Parables of Jesus" tells the story of having been on an ocean liner headed to the Middle East.
Nine hundred miles out to sea a sail was sighted on the horizon. As the liner drew closer, the passengers saw that the boat - a small sloop flying a Turkish flag - had run up a distress signal and other flags asking for its position at sea. Through a faulty chronometer or immature navigation the small vessel had become lost. For nearly an hour the liner circled the little boat, giving its crew correct latitude and longitude. Naturally there was a great deal of interest in all the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. A boy of about 12 standing on the deck and watching all that was taking place remarked aloud to himself - "It's a big ocean to be lost in."
It is a big universe to be lost in, too. And we do get lost - we get mixed up and turned around. We despair, we make mistakes, we do evil to each other. We deserve the wrath of God and that is what the Pharisees who criticized Jesus maintained. But Jesus understood God more. He knew God as a Shepherd in search of the one lost sheep. He knew God as a woman searching in the dark, in the crevasses, for that valuable coin. In the end it was Jesus' view of God which prevailed and not his critics.
Adapted by Brett Blair from a sermon by Richard J. Fairchild.__________________
9. Create Him Not
Then stepped forward the Angel of Mercy...