13 September 2013

'Rejoice with me, for I have found . . .' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

The Prodigal Son, 1651-55, Salvator Rosa [Web Gallery of Art]
Luke 15:11-32

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Luke 15:1-32 [1-10, short form] (Revised Standard Version – Catholic Edition)

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. "

Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

[And he said, "There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.

And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, 'Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!'

And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"]

Responsorial Psalm (NAB Lectionary)

A few days after I went to Ireland on vacation in May a man came to me after Mass one morning. I'll call him Tom. He told me with great joy that he had drifted away from the Church for a number of years, though he wasn't quite sure why. This happened after his wife died. But a friend of his, another widower whom I'll call Jim, gently kept encouraging him to come back. Tom is a couple of years short of 70 while Jim is a couple of years above.

Tom decided on the morning of Ash Wednesday this year that he'd go to Mass. He wasn't quite sure at the time why. But he's been going every day since with Jim. They usually have coffee afterwards in the parish hall. I joined them from time to time and came to know both as friends, two men quietly living their faith.

In his first general audience as Bishop of Rome, on Wednesday 27 March, Pope Francis said, God does not wait for us to go to him but it is he who moves towards us, without calculation, without quantification. That is what God is like. He always takes the first step, he comes towards us

But God usually approaches us through others. In the same talk, given during Holy Week, Pope Francis said, Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves — as I said last Sunday — in order to go to meet others, to go towards the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step towards our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help. There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!

As he has done so often since, Pope Francis speaks of God's mercy and alludes to today's gospel (though some priests or deacons may not read the parable of the Prodigal Son): God always thinks with mercy: do not forget this. God always thinks mercifully. He is the merciful Father! God thinks like the father waiting for the son and goes to meet him, he spots him coming when he is still far off....

What does this mean? That he went every day to see if his son was coming home: this is our merciful Father. It indicates that he was waiting for him with longing on the terrace of his house

Jim is a former professional footballer. A good player is constantly 'reading' the game and when he gets possession of the ball he knows who to pass it to or, if there is an opening, to take a shot at goal. Not every forward movement results in a goal because a good defender 'reads' the game too and knows when and how to shut down an attack. But the forwards keep looking for opportunities to score and the backs for ways to stop them from scoring. 

In the two short parables Jesus speaks of individuals who know they have lost something valuable. In the case of the woman it was the equivalent of a day's wage. In each case the owner goes in search of what has been lost. Sometimes we may not know ourselves that we have lost something precious. That was the case with Tom. But Jim his friend could see what Tom had lost. And as a good footballer would do, he 'kept his eye on the ball', looking for a way to enable Tom not only to see that he had lost something precious but to find it.

That's what happened. And in the same talk on Wednesday of Holy Week Pope Francis urged us 'to come out' in order to meet others, to make ourselves close, to bring them the light and joy of our faith. To come out always! And to do so with God’s love and tenderness, with respect and with patience, knowing that God takes our hands, our feet, our heart, and guides them and makes all our actions fruitful. .

Pope Francis mentions a number of aspects of following Jesus: light, joy, respect, patience. He emphasises that the one seeking us out is our loving God who takes our hands, our feet, our heart, and guides them and makes all our actions fruitful.

Jesus waited for the opportunity to strike, taking first of all Jim's caring heart and then, in a way that a soccer player would appreciate, 'took his feet' to 'score the goal' that was the joyful return of Tom to the Church.

This setting of Psalm 51 (Psalm 50 in the Vulgate and liturgical books) from which the verses of today's Responsorial Psalm are taken, is by Gregorio Allegri (1582-1653) who was a priest in Rome.

Moses, 1640-45, Carlo Dolci [Web Gallery of Art]
First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

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