The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 – Cycle C
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
When was the last time you lost something? And I don’t mean the car keys. Misplacing something because we are in a hurry is not the same as losing something. Loss comes about by neglect, by not being observant, by taking for granted, by presuming, by not fulfilling our responsibilities.
Luke would have us believe and interprets the three parables of Jesus today as being about repentance and forgiveness: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” Is that what these parables are about? Luke and the church have missed the point. We have always centered our attention on the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. But are we not rather presented with three people: a wealthy owner of livestock, a homeowner of some means and a parent who has a sufficiently large estate. Each in their neglect, in their not paying attention, in their taking for granted of others realize they have lost something, someone, of value.
Do we know what or whom we have lost? Is it our innocence, a friend, our integrity, a son or daughter, our dignity or self-worth, a parent, our identity, a life’s opportunity? What or whom has each of us lost?
There is a subtle yet important shift from the first parable to the second. The keeper of the flock speaks only of “my lost sheep” claiming no responsibility for losing it. The woman, in contrast, cries out: “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost”. She takes responsibility. Will we, do we, admit to our responsibility for the losses in our life? This is difficult in our society that in its adolescent attitude is always blaming others, always suing others, always passing the buck. Do you remember Ethan Couch whose defense for drunk driving and killing four people was “affluenza”, being too pampered?
Speaking of pampered.
I’ve never trusted the younger son. To my mind, the only reason he returns home is because he has wasted his inheritance, no one is paying attention to him as dad seems to have and he is hungry. He remembers that dad has an estate and is wealthy. He rehearses his spiel and off to home he goes. The younger son is not found rather he returns to his true nature. A nature of being pampered and manipulative. He knows that dad (or mom) will do and give him anything he asks.
What is ironic is that the father does not initially challenge his son’s request. He simply and without any question divides the estate between the two brothers. The wasteful son is wasteful because the parent is wasteful! The parable shows us that indulgence does not buy love.
Have you noticed who is missing and not invited to the party? Does not the parable begin, “A man had two sons…”? The anger of the elder brother is not unprovoked. He has been ignored by dad (and mom, herself absent from the story), by those feasting and celebrating, by the servants and even by us – centuries of readers and listeners of this Gospel parable. His alienation can be felt in our bones. No one runs out to invite him to the feast because no one noticed he was missing! How many people have left this parish because no one noticed them? I know the feeling because years ago it was easy for me to leave a prestigious choral group because no reached out, no one noticed. If you are a snow bird or have been absent for an extended period due to illness or have returned after having left the church, did anyone notice and comment that you were missed? There are a lot of lost people out there.
Will, and do, we admit to our responsibility for the losses in our life? ..in the life of this parish?
Finally the father realizes who is truly lost. We have always presumed the younger son as lost, haven’t we? Loss comes about by neglect, by not being observant, by taking others for granted. Now like the man searching for a sheep and the woman searching for her coin, this parent must go searching for a lost child to make his family complete. But children, people in general, are not sheep or coins, they have long memories, emotional needs and a voice of their own. Years of resentment are boiling over and find expression in the elder son’s anger. His fidelity has been overlooked and ignored while others received more attention.
Who among your friends, immediate family members, neighbors, and co-workers is quietly faithful, supportive and loyal to you? Are they being taken for granted?
This third parable does not end with rejoicing. We are left with the stark image of a parent and their child still standing in a field. Now what?
Is someone lost from your life? Who is it? And like the centuries of presumption that the younger son was lost, they may not be so obvious and very near to us like the loyal elder son. What effort will we make to find who we have lost?
A parent and their child,
you and a friend,
a wife and her husband,
you and a sibling,
you and a neighbor,
stand in the middle of a field.
[Ideas and full passages are taken from, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy-Jill Levine, HarperOne, 2014; pages 27-76.]