24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son, Found People

Today’s readings present a shepherd rejoicing over finding a lost sheep, a housewife rejoicing over finding a lost coin, and a father rejoicing over the return of his lost son.  The three parables are in answer to the Pharisees and Scribes complaints about Jesus, saying that He can’t be the Messiah because He welcomes sinners and eats with them. 

Eating with someone, for the ancients and for us, is a way of expressing friendship and love.  Jesus does not argue that He is eating with sinners; His argument is that He has called them to repentance and they have come. He is full of joy that they have come back to God. Jesus is telling us that we should be happy that others have been forgiven.

First of all, unlike the Pharisees and scribes who saw themselves as holy and beyond reproach, most of us are well aware of our sinfulness. Sometimes we may even think: “How could God forgive me?  Maybe I don’t even belong here, with people whose commitment to the Lord is far greater than mine.”  Perhaps at times we have experienced God’s presence in a powerful way and then suffer even more when we recall our sins.  This is the normal reaction of one coming closer to the Lord.  The closer we come to Him, the more sensitive we become to sin; it’s called having a delicate conscience.  Nonetheless, we should not be overly focusing on ourselves.  According to the three parables, the Lord is delighted that we are once more in His Company.  Like the Forgiving Father, His focus is not on our past.  God doesn’t carry a grudge.  His focus is on our present; and our return to Him is a source of great joy. He is also telling us that we should join in His joy, because we too have been forgiven.

The Scribes and Pharisees did not seem at all pleased that Jesus had forgiven known sinners.  We really have to be careful that we don’t behave the same way.  Perhaps we come to Mass at times and see someone that we know has done some really bad stuff.  What is our reaction?  According to the Gospel for today, our reaction should be: I am happy he or she is here, choosing Christ.  That person is here for the same reasons that I am here: compassion, forgiveness, and love. The Lord wants to forgive us.  The Lord wants to forgive him or her.  The Lord wants us to live in His Love. 

In the second reading, from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, Paul mentions an early Christian saying, “Christ came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost. But for that very reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me Christ might display all His Patience as an example for those who would come to believe in Him.”  Jesus came into the world to forgive sinners.  And it’s spiritually healthy to see that I too am one of them.  

Fr. Tom