The Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Lost Son
Father Hanly’s wonderful homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, is on the parables the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son.
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
Just one of the three stories would keep you here for about three days, listening to them, to the meaning behind it and the impact that it must have had in his day.
The one who’s relaying these stories is, of course, the greatest outcast in the Bible, because Saint Luke was the only non-Hebrew ever to have anything published in the Old or New Testament.
And you can see when hear these three stories the great gratitude that he has in his heart for finding Saint Paul who spoke to him of Jesus, and of Jesus who spoke for God Himself so that the whole world would understand one simple truth – we are all one family and we must learn to love or we’ll never touch God.
And we must learn to serve each other because only in serving will we find Jesus. For Jesus said, “I have come to serve and you will find me among the servants. I have come to serve you and love you and care for you.”
And then he has these three wonderful, wonderful parables. But don’t be afraid, I’m not going to keep you here all day. But some little points are interesting.
The first one is the reason Jesus is speaking and telling these parables is because the Pharisees and the Sadducees and all the important people of his time are upset because he’s spending time with sinners.
Now, you know everybody’s a sinner, but he’s spending his time with public sinners. He is going into the places where they hang out, the tax collectors, and he sits at the table with prostitutes.
Can you imagine, can you imagine the kind of anger that the Pharisees who believed that God should be worshipped and His laws should be heeded because His laws lead to life …
And Jesus almost is doing it in a way to challenge them. And he has a right to because Jesus was a Pharisee, he was not a Sadducee. A Pharisee was one who believed deeply in the Old Testament and in the Law. He believed in it so deeply that it pained him to see these good Pharisees becoming prisoners of the Law and leaving compassion behind.
And so the three parables are all about how God looks upon compassion.
And, of course, the first one is a very famous one. And it’s very famous in the old days because if you went to the catacombs in Rome, those first years when the Christians were persecuted, the one thing that you would find is an old, ancient stone carving, the only carving that comes down from maybe the 2nd Century or the 3rd Century, and it’s the shepherd carrying the sheep on his shoulders.
What does it mean?
Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I love you. You know me. I walk with you. I teach you how to walk towards your Father. I teach you how to love. I teach you how to forgive. I teach you how to care for people.
“I have come to show you, not just by talking about it, but by living. I sit where the rejected sit, the unwanted of the world sit. I am in their midst.
“If I don’t go, who is going to go? And what are they to understand? That we have a God who just loves a certain section, a certain group, and we are fortunate enough to belong to it?”
Or as he says, when one man, a public sinner, no matter what he does, lost, far away, what is that man’s worth?
He’s worth the shepherd leaving ninety-nine others to go in search of him, up and down the hills wandering, even though he knows that the man might not want him, the sheep might refuse to come back.
And then when he finds him, he doesn’t yell at him and scold him. He puts him on his shoulders and carries him home and calls the neighbours and they have a party for a sheep.
And what is Jesus saying?
He says it himself: “I tell you the angels in heaven rejoice more over one sinner who turns back in love to his Father than for all the ninety-nine who have never left.
This is a great story.
The second one, of course, is the lady who is looking for her lost coin.
And Jesus says, “How important is that lost coin?
That lost coin, out of ten coins, she loses one. Each coin was a week’s wages for people in those days, so it was a lot of money.
And she was worried, but you notice there is no praying to God, there is no asking God to help. She’s worried and worried, and she’s looking, and she scours the place, and she does everything.
And finally she finds it. And what does she do?
She runs down the street, calls all the neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me!”
Was she rejoicing over a coin?
Of course not. Because she was rejoicing that God had helped her in the quietness, no display, no miracles, no fanfare, but she knew in her heart that God was with her.
And it wasn’t a coincidence that she found it under a certain place or at a certain time. The people of Alcoholics Anonymous say there’s no such thing as a coincidence, a coincidence is God acting anonymously.
It means that she searched and searched and knew that she had to search to find it, knowing that God was with her and in her presence. And that is why she rejoiced. Rejoice and be glad, for His love is all with us.
The final one is too long to go onto but, in a very quick way, the final story, of course, is the story of God Himself. God’s vulnerability, God’s need, God’s need for those two reckless little boys, one who would spend everything and the other one who would hoard everything, and neither one of them would ever understand the depth of their father’s love.
And it’s a great story. Running down the hill to embrace his son, not letting him apologise, not waiting up at the top of the hill and saying, “Okay, when he comes up here then he’s going to say I’m sorry and he’ll kneel before me, and maybe I’ll forgive him.” He doesn’t even think of that. He runs down, grabs hold of him, all dirt and mud and corruption, and he hugs him and he doesn’t even listen to the little words of apology.
And then what happens? They have a great feast because his son really died, to lose God’s love is to die.
And what does God do when you turn away from him?
He tracks you down, He looks for you like a shepherd, but He’s always in your heart like the father looking down each day to see if his son would come back.
And when his son comes back, he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t say, “See, I told you so. You shouldn’t have taken this, you shouldn’t have done that. Now you must be a dutiful son.”
He just takes him in, they wash him down, give him his authority back and sit him at a banquet.
This is God’s need, God’s vulnerability.
God’s vulnerability is that He needs to be loved because how is His world to be complete unless the love He gives to us, we share it with each other.
And this is the sad part, and this is the part he wants us to think.
Because many of us when we hear these terrible stories we feel like the older brother – I do my best, I am a good person, I never wandered, I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that, I was faithful and true, and on and on.
And he was, but what was he lacking?
The father has to make a fool of himself the second time, not running down the hill to embrace the first worthless one but now he’s got to go to his good son and try to convince him to come to the party.
He goes out and the son starts pouting and saying, “You didn’t treat me this way, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And look at your son who spent everything with prostitutes and he gets this kind of treatment.”
And his father says to him, “Everything I have is yours, but he had died. He had forgotten what love really means. And in his pain and anguish, he came back and I reached out and touched him with love.”
And then Jesus ends the story and he ends it deliberately there.
Does the son, the older son, finally go into the party recognising that he too needs the love of his father, and will meet the love of his father and serve and care and forgive his brother and the people?
Will he come into the party and join the music and dancing, or will he sit outside sulking?
Because the problem of the older son who kept all the rules, he didn’t have the heart to forgive his own brother.