Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Our culture may not comprehend fully the practical sense of our Gospel today (the lost sheep/the lost coin/the prodigal son): (a) to call neighbors to celebrate with one for a sheep that was lost and found? The owner would have second thoughts. Friends might just ask him to kill the animal for Thanksgiving Day; (b) to celebrate with the woman for a silver coin that was lost and found? She would be too afraid to leave the house for fear that thieves might break in the house. People won’t even reveal how much they have in their bank accounts; (c) to celebrate with the Father the return of his prodigal son? Even the older brother would not accept him, and many parents today would refuse to recognize their prodigal children. The parable shows us that the father becomes prodigal of his mercy towards his son, and is compassionate towards his older son, who actually lived in his home, but made himself far from the hearts of his brother and his father.
Looking into the shepherd’s context, if he worked for somebody, his job was his livelihood, and if he owned the sheep, pasturing them would be love for his sheep, work for his family and his source of income. To save it from a difficult situation, the shepherd would inevitably have to hurt the sheep, but would immediately apply healing balm to soothe the pain, and bring it back to the fold. The coin would represent the woman’s work, hence it was income and life of her family. She would light up her house and remove all obstacles to find the lost coin. Losing it was sadness; finding it was joy. The son would symbolize each one of us, as the Father receives us back however far we run away, for we are His joy and the crown of His creation.
Jesus used these parables in reference to His prayer to the Father before He suffered and died: “When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction” (Jn 17:12); and “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).
We may also consider that the Scribes and Pharisees made themselves so selfishly important, thinking they were the only way to salvation. They ignored what Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Complaining was one of their ways of discrimination of people who were not of their kind. They complained about Jesus and His followers, who were eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, to which Jesus responded: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:31-32). The Scribes and the Pharisees made a golden calf of themselves. They did not associate with the lowly, because for them, the poor were expendable and have no salvation. But Jesus came to bring the love of God for the poor and called them “blessed.”
So, we take into account the following:
– Jesus is the only way to the Father, and He is the Good Shepherd. Like sheep that easily loses its way, we likewise aimlessly wander. Though we were created with intellect and will to be able to choose the right, we lose these when we prefer our self-centered ways over the ways of the Good Shepherd. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seeks us and lays His healing hand on us. He continues to fight evil, so we may have life. He is our Good Shepherd from whom flows the river of graces we need.
– God, in His patience, brings back sinners to the Church and to Himself through discipline and experiences of hurts; or through the light of truth, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. However, many of us see the Sacrament as a burden or as a washing machine. It is not any of these. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is God’s renewal of His Covenant of mercy and restoration of His relationship with us. It is our way home to the merciful Father, who lovingly receives us and sets us before Himself.
– Jesus is the face of God’s patience towards His people. Many though make a molten calf of their work, pleasures and desires. We are reminded of God’s first commandment: I, the LORD, am your God…. You shall not have other gods besides me…. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me…. but bestowing mercy…. on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Dt 5:6-10). Psalm 49 tells us: “In his riches, man lacks wisdom….” (13, 21), for no man can buy his own ransom, or pay a price to God for his life. He cannot buy life without end, nor avoid coming to the grave (8-10).
Let us renew our baptismal promises daily and live out God’s Covenant of mercy and love. We come to celebrate the Eucharist as citizens of His Kingdom, for Jesus has found us and brought us back to Himself. So, we proclaim as we partake of Him: Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed. Then we are sent: Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.