24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In this Sunday’s Gospel we hear three parables told by Our Blessed Lord. One of them is the parable of the prodigal son which is perhaps the most famous of the parables. In this parable the younger of two sons asks his father for his share of the inheritance and then went to a new country where he squandered all that his father had given him. This son then ends up getting a job feeding the pigs for someone which is all the more terrible a fall for Christ’s Jewish hearers for they considered that pigs were unclean animals. The younger son then decides to go back to his father and ask him for a job as one of his paid servants so that at least he would have a better life there. However, when his father sees his son a long way off, he ran to him and embraced him and then welcomed him back as his son.
In this parable we understand God to be the Father and that we as sinners play the part of the younger son. This parable teaches us that when we turn back to God with sincere hearts that He will welcome us and forgive us all of our sins. The fact that the younger son squandered all he was given did not effect the Father’s rejoicing when he saw his son and did not matter. In the same way God our Father rejoices when we turn back to Him – no matter what we have done – and providing that we sincerely turn to Him and ask for forgiveness, God will forgive us. A priest once said to me that to consider that God would not forgive something that one had done, or to lack trust that one’s sins were forgiven, would be insulting to the Lord, for the fact that Jesus carried a cross for us demonstrated that God’s forgiveness is unlimited.
This parable of the prodigal son is then one of the most important – for it shows us the infinity of God’s mercy. Despite the fact that this parable is so well known, it is surprisingly not sufficient to describe the infinite mercy and love of God. The two parables that we hear before the parable of the prodigal son this Sunday help us begin to complete this picture of a loving and merciful God. The first of these two parables describes the man who has a hundred sheep, who then lost one of them. This man went away in search of his lost sheep. The second parable describes a woman who lost one of her drachmas. The woman then swept her house and went searching her abode till she found it. God’s mercy is like this. When someone strays from the fold, God does not wait passively for them to return. He actively goes looking for them, like the man with the lost sheep. Neither does God give up looking for them, sending graces to help a sinner turn back to Him, even up to the very end of life.
So let us pray for all those whom God still seeks, that they may respond to his call and turn back to Him with confidence and so be happy in the eternal life which God wishes to grant all of us. Amen.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”