The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin
Father Hanly’s homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, is on the two parables The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin.
Readings for Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
- First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
- Second Reading: First Timothy 1:12-17
- Gospel: Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10
Today, St. Luke has two wonderful parables of Jesus to give us.
And the first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep — very famous parable.
Now Jesus knows that the Scribes and the Pharisees, who are the leading religious authorities of the Jewish people, are complaining.
They’re complaining that Jesus is spending his time with sinners — even worse with “public sinners” — welcoming them, and dining with tax collectors and other such outcasts who are known to have shown little respect for the Mosaic Law.
And when Jesus sits at table with these questionable people, you really can imagine the anger it arouses among the Pharisees, the Pharisees who believe that the Lord God must be worshipped and must be respected strictly, and His Laws must be strictly observed because they come from God Himself.
Jesus’ teaching and behaviour is seen by some of them, especially among the Pharisees of his day, as challenging God Himself.
But Jesus was also right. He was right because, as many of you might not know, Jesus himself was, at heart, a Pharisee.
Traditionally, the Pharisees had been the heroic defenders of the faith against those who fought and sought to destroy it, ones who believed deeply in the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible, especially the Torah, the Law of Moses.
Jesus also believed in these teachings of the Pharisees in the early stage of the Pharisees.
So deeply he believed in it, it pained him to see the Pharisees of his day becoming prisoners of those who would make of the Law merely endless rules and regulations, regulations and rules, while leaving the very heart of the Law — the practice of love, the practice of compassion, the practice of forgiveness — far behind.
And, for Jesus, the heart of the Law was to be found in God his Father’s love, compassion and forgiveness, not just for the Children of Abraham but to be shared for all humanity, one fine day, that would ultimately change the whole world. And indeed it has.
Now this is why Jesus tells the story, the parable really, of the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd, the one who leaves ninety-nine sheep in a safe place and goes in search of the one that strayed, the one that was lost.
What does it mean when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd”?
It means a lot.
It means, as he would say, “I know you from your birth and I love you, you are mine. I love to be with you, to walk the streets with you, to teach you how to love each other, how to forgive and care for each other, as my Father and I care for you every day.
“And my Father’s love is not just in the talking of it but in the living of life itself. If you look for me, you will find me, you will find me among the lost and the lonely, the needy and the unwanted, the rejected ones, the forgotten ones.
“For those who have lost their way, I follow,” says Jesus, “and when I find them, I bring them safely home to where they belong.”
Ah, but you might question him: “Why do you go in search of the lost ones?’”
And his answer would be something like this:
“Friend, if I don’t go, who in the world will go?
“And what shall I say to them? Shall I tell them that we have a God who loves only a certain group of special people, a selective assembly of chosen ones to which we are fortunate enough to belong?
“And what then must I do,” says Jesus, “when one person leaves the flock, loses his way, wanders about too far, alone, lost, hungry.
“What is this man’s value, what is his true worth?
“Before men, probably nothing!
“But before my Father in Heaven, he’s worth the Good Shepherd leaving ninety-nine sheep to go in service to the one who is lost, up and down the hills, wandering — even though he knows that the sheep might, when found, reject him, might not want him, might refuse to return with him.
“But the Good Shepherd is his Father’s Son, and his Father’s Son will keep on trying, again and again and again.
“And when the Shepherd finds a lost sheep, shall he scold him, shall he punish him as he well deserves? Or will he lift him gently up, put him on his shoulders, carry him safely home, and calling all the neighbours to throw a party to celebrate the return of this one lost sheep.”
And what is Jesus saying to us?
He says, as you well know: “Amen, amen, I say to you the angels in heaven rejoice more over one sinner who returns home than for all the ninety-nine who never left.”
That’s a great parable. And it gives us much to think about. And when you realise that parable is two thousand years old, you will realise the great power in this first parable, The Lost Sheep.
And now there’s a second parable. This one’s a little shorter, so don’t worry.
The second parable, of course, is the story of the woman, apparently a widow, who is looking for her lost coin.
We might ask: “How important is that coin to her, the widow?”
Well, to the people of those days, each coin is worth a week’s wages — and this is a poor woman who has no husband or children. So it was a lot of money, and she, she was worried, searching high and low, until she finally found it.
And she did find it. And what does she do?
She runs up and down the streets, calling all her friends, her neighbours together and says, “Come now, rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I lost.” And, of course, they all did, and perhaps had a very good meal that night.
Now I ask you, is the woman rejoicing over a coin, a chunk of money?
Of course not. She’s rejoicing with her friends and, according to their custom, they are thanking God.
The lady who knows in her heart that God is with her, this is a woman of faith.
She searches and she prays because the presence of God is for her always part of every solution to every difficulty that she has had in her life. It is part of who she is, and when sorrows come, she remembers the ancient prayer: “Seek with tears, but seek with hope, and you will feel His presence draw ever closer to you.”
She who lives her life of faith each day in the presence of her God, rejoices that God who is with her is always quiet. He’s a quiet God: no loud displays, no fancy miracles, no fanfares. But she, she feels within her heart that God is with her, that God has touched her with his peace and love.
And so she calls her friends and she too rejoices. She calls her friends together to celebrate her great good fortune and they sing the song that we all know: “Rejoice and be glad for God’s love is everlasting.”
Two parables, two thousand years old, fresh and full of wisdom to guide us on our way.