24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
Readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
Theme: Amazing Grace
Every human being has a relationship with God, whether he/she admits of it or not. This relationship is based on faith, love, and fidelity. God always keeps his own part of the deal but many times, we fail him. We are not always faithful, and we do not always love him. When we fail to love God and become unfaithful to him, then it is said that we have sinned. Sin offends God and separates us from him, but in his mercy, he forgives us and takes us back. This is what all the readings of today’s Mass speak to us about, but more forcefully, the readings are about the amazing love and grace of God which never gives up on us.
In the gospel reading, Jesus tells the Pharisees and Scribes, and by extension, us too, three very significant parables – of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. In all three parables, we see the image of God as the One who does not give up on anyone. This goes to show to us that as far as God is concerned, each and every one of us is of the greatest importance in our singularity. Leaving ninety-nine sheep in search of only one may not actually make sense to us until we are that one. Our reflection shall however, focus more on the parable of the lost son. We shall note a few significant points about each of the principal characters of the parable, and from them, draw multiple short lessons.
The First Son (The Self Righteous)
- His righteousness was so much even before his own eyes that he told his father, “I never disobeyed your command.”
- He had a wrong picture of his father; he saw his father more as a master than as a father. This was why he could say to his father, “Behold, these many years, I have served you.”
- He was unforgiving and exclusive. He would not welcome his younger brother back home, yet he was pained that his father could forgive his brother. As far as he was concerned, the brother was not deserving of the father’s love and that amazing graciousness with which he was received.
The Second Son (The Reckless)
- Probably driven by youthful exuberance, he wanted freedom; he wanted to see and experience life.
- He displayed foolishness in squandering his portion of wealth; and he had fair-weather friends who were only interested in what he had, not in who he is. So when his wealth finished, they vanished.
- He learnt the hard way, the other side of life. Young people should especially learn from this. They sometimes think their parents are not allowing them freedom, not knowing that the parents are protecting them from the harsh realities of life. Some eventually break “free” like the boy in our story, and unfortunately, they are permanently damaged.
- Hunger made him remember home. Though this is not really cool, but at least, he remembered home. He probably was not truly remorseful; he just wanted food.
- Remembering home is one thing, going home is another thing. He summoned courage to actually go home. Sometimes, the realization of our sins comes upon us so hard, but we still lack the courage to rise and go back home. We must pray for this courage.
The Father (The Merciful)
- The man was wise and experienced in the things of life, so when the son “revolted”, he let him go.
- He had a big, generous and forgiving heart. This is clearly demonstrated in the manner in which he received his son back home.
- He is a forgetter. He was not interested in the son’s mistake; he was only interested in the fact of his return.
- Separated from God, life shall be miserable for us, as we see in the experience of the lost son. Hosea 14:1 says “Your iniquity is the cause of your misery.”
- Repentance must be borne out of sorrow for sin, not out of fear of punishment or in search of favour.
- Those who, in their self-righteousness, think “sinners” should not be in the church, this parable is for you. It was for people of this kind that Jesus told these three parables in the first instance.
- God does not owe us because we serve him. The sense of entitlement of the first son is what some Christians today also carry and even preachers are preaching this misleading message. The boy told his father, “All these years, I have served you…and you never gave me even a small goat to celebrate with my friends.” These days, you hear preachers saying something like, “You cannot be faithfully serving my God and be poor” or “If you are serving the living God, sickness can never be your portion.” Such teachings are not biblical.
- When we sin, all that God wants is to see us return to him. Repeatedly, God has said to us through the prophets that he is not interested in the death of sinners but in their repentance and salvation (cf. Isa 1:18; Ezk 18:23).
- No matter how far away we have moved from God, the love and grace of God is so amazing that he constantly keeps working to bring us back to himself. As Jesus said in the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep, their owners went in search of them; that is how God goes in search of us. This is the reason why St. Paul says that “God is reconciling us to himself through Jesus Christ…not counting our sins against us” (2 Cor 5:18-19).
- The parables in today’s gospel reading, especially the parable of the lost son, are the stories of our lives and our relationship with God. We have all sinned and moved away from God. Will we rise and return to our Father? Or are we going to remain in the pig stead? May the Lord God grant us the courage and grace of true repentance. Amen.