TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
USCCB Link to all three readings
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 tend 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 servants,
‘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.’”
I generally write the blog each day with a 1000-word maximum in mind, if not always in practice, so it is with no little humor that I note my “word count” for today is over 700, and I haven’t opened my mouth yet. I wonder if many parishes will read all three texts of the Gospel. The Roman Missal allows for a shortening of the sequence, such that your pastor is required to read only the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, omitting the epic story of the Prodigal Son and the Loving Father. I am disappointed with the editing of the Lectionary, which condones omitting the famous parable of a father’s love for two disparate offspring. However, this parable has been used in every Penance service since 1970, so it has not lacked in exposure.
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) refers to Chapter 15 as “God’s Mercy for Sinners Thrice Illustrated.” The editor of the JBC’s Lukan commentary, Father Robert Karris, O.F.M., is a scholar I had the pleasure of working with during three summers at St. Bonaventure University in the early 1970’s when I was director of liturgy for the summer masters of theology program attended by hundreds of religious sisters. Father Karris is the author of many biblical works, including Eating Your Way Through St. Luke.
Karris makes the point in his JBC contribution that Sunday’s text illustrates how “God’s mercy breaks through all human restrictions of how God should act toward sinners. God’s mercy, indeed, is as foolish as a shepherd who abandons 99 sheep…[or] as a woman who turns her house upside down to recover a paltry sum….” (p. 707) The general thrust here is that all of the main characters in Chapter 15—including the loving father—have behaved in strange ways, and that God is willing to go beyond their idiosyncrasies in winning them back to the eschatological/redemptive banquet; all three examples in Chapter 15 end with a banquet of some sort, most notably the homecoming of the wayward son.
Our “in-house” commentary from Joel Green addresses our texts with more detail. He notes, for example, that while Luke 15:1 seems to signify a shift in time and place, Chapter 15 continues Luke’s previous emphases on banquets from previous Sundays, and Chapter 16 will continue this theme with the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. Green’s overall understanding seems to be the desire of Jesus that his disciples join him in mercy and rejoice at the redemption or recovery of even one lost soul.
An important thing to note in Chapter 15: 1-2 is that the term “sinner” is rather broad. Verse 1 specifically singles out toll collectors with the sinners, strongly suggesting that these “sinners” coming to listen to Jesus were not ax murderers, but individuals who did not measure up to the Pharisaic standard of cleanness. Toll collectors, for example, would routinely handle Gentile money and do business with an occupying pagan government, Rome. Thus, when Jesus concludes each vignette, the invitation to the celebratory banquet is actually a call to a sit-down between the “questionably clean” Pharisees and the “interiorly clean” marginalized whose conversion is complete.
The lost sheep narrative suffers somewhat by its translation into English. The Greek originals actually string the premises along in a crescendo until the listener could hardly respond by anything other than a rousing “Of Course!” In English, the Pharisees could stop Jesus after his first sentence with an objection, like “what does sheep tending have to do with me?” Green also calls attention to Ezekiel 34, where the prophet is commanded by God to speak against the leaders of Israel, leaving their charges to scatter with no one to look for them. The first parable ends with a clear reference, paradoxical to be sure, of to the reality of heavenly judgment: the “found” will be cause for more joy than 99 who have no need of repentance. There is an eerie overtone here of Luke 18: 9-14, where the Pharisee prays in gratitude for his righteousness while the tax collector beats his breast in prayer for forgiveness. Jesus comments that only the tax collector went home justified. The phrase “those with no need of repentance,” evidently, is pregnant with foreboding.
The loss of one sheep out of one hundred is a concern; the loss of 10% of one’s life savings, or one coin out of ten, is an even bigger crisis, given that even ten coins represents about ten days’ wages; it is no significant IRA. Green observes that the woman invites her friends to celebrate her find, a gathering most likely of women. Recall the opening lines of Chapter 15 where Jesus is accused, essentially, of eating with undesirables.
The parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Loving Father, is probably well known to you. I would simply draw attention to its conclusion with the other brother. Luke’s use of language here is brilliant. The older brother does not bring himself to even name the younger brother, referring to him as “that son of yours.” As the elder brother continues to vent his spleen, it becomes evident that Luke, knowingly or unknowingly, has personified the text from St. Matthew, (Matthew 23: 25-26) that while the outside of the cup is clean, the inside is filled with moral rot. We do not know, from Luke’s text, whether this older son ever brought himself to sit at the banquet with his restored brother or not. But we have plenty to go on that absence from the banquet is indeed a very costly fast.