Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
First Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10
Today’s liturgy might have several names for themes flowing from the Readings. Misery Loves Compassion, Lost and Found Sunday, or Finders-Keepers, Losers-Weepers Sunday, might all reflect how our hearts would be turned towards the Eucharist today.
We hear in today’s First Reading a conversation resulting in the conversion of God’s heart through the petitioning of Moses. God has lost heart in the seeing of Israel’s faithless worshipping of a molten calf which they made and their turning away from the God Who had made them. They were God’s people whom God had taken out of the chaos of slavery and fashioned them as God’s special flock.
Moses is pictured as reminding God of covenantal promises made long ago, making the descendants of Abraham as numerous as the stars. As when God sees the rainbow in the time of Noah’s flood, God remembers those promises and the fidelity which has been promised and mercy replaces misery. The land was the inheritance promised, as well as descendants, to be the signs of God’s fidelity. Having a home and being in God’s family were central to the faith of the people of Israel.
The Gospel presents us three Lost-and-Found stories. A single sheep, a little coin and a wandering son provide quite vivid pictures of finding and, even more, the Finder.
The first two verses of this long Gospel are perhaps the more easy
to neglect and, yet, are perhaps most important to a prayerful understanding.
The Pharisees and scribes were rigidly religious in their personal observances
and equally in their observations of others. Tax collectors and other
similar sinners were finding Jesus’ teachings concerning them, freeing.
They are listening and finding life in His words, but the righteous Pharisees
resent this freedom, this being brought out of slavery. As we hear
the three parables addressed on behalf of the lost and miserable, and directed
toward the Pharisees, you might also hear in the background of your imaginations
the voices of the sinners shouting, “You tell 'em, that’s right, hit 'em
again with one they’ll really remember!” So down through the centuries,
it has been hard to forget the finding of one sheep, one coin and one wandering
lad of misery.
There are some wonderfully prayerful aspects to notice today. The young lad, while sitting in the pigpen, comes to his senses. Not only does he look around to see his condition, but can feel and smell his misery. He tastes his hunger and senses his longing for his home and being back in his family. He also comes to his senses, meaning he comes to himself and his truth. He is the one who has walked away from the land and relationships, and his father let him go. He freely chose his present condition by attempting to provide totally for himself in a stance of independence.
His father, however, as with the shepherd and the woman of the first two parables, all are the main characters. They are the finders and the keepers. Jesus is telling the Pharisees what the tax collectors already know, that the God who freed the enslaved Israelites is still freeing and feeding the lost, hungry, and miserable if they can come to their senses and allow themselves to be found. The father is the finder and the “Elder Son” is the weeper.
The great scene is that the younger son does allow the party to be celebrated after he does admit out loud what he had practiced in his heart. It is prayerful to ponder how freely he lived in his later years as he remembered his selfish surrender to his sinfulness. Did he hold on to his shame or guilt? Did he drag the smells and sights of his past along behind him? Did he experience his older-brother’s condemnation every time they met? God holds nothing against us except Jesus. God, like the searching-woman, continues a loving way to welcome us back without violating our freedom to resist and rebel. We can hold various scarlet letters across our chests, but it takes both hands to do so. We can hold on to our pasts and almost worship a false-god of shame. We can also come to our senses, seeing, feeling, and tasting our enslavement and little-by-little reach out one hand to be grasped by the finding hand of Mercy.
We can also stand, Pharisee-like in condemnation of our pasts as
if they were not our own. We can stand or sit in judgement of others
because they remind us of a distant, long-ago self. God holds Jesus
against us, or towards us who are the found, the mercied and the keepers
of the sense of who we really are, God’s flock, coin and family.
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