24th Sunday OT Year C
Today in the gospel we hear one of our most well-loved parables. The parable of the prodigal son always speaks to us. Each one of us hears something different when we hear this parable. Sometimes we feel far from God, our sins and our bad choices make us feel like the prodigal son. Yet we know that we can always come back to God, who is the Father in the story, who catches sight of us while we are still distant. Sometimes we are challenged by the depiction of the older son. Are we ever jealous of God's mercy? Are we judgmental and harsh, when God is loving and merciful? Other times we are inspired by the example of the Father in the story: how many of us are hesitant to rush forward and forgive the person in most need of our forgiveness, especially those in our family. Yes, the parable speaks to every one of us.
But, when I was reading this gospel this week something new struck me about the parable. If you notice Jesus tells three straight parables. In the first two parables the theme is quite easy to detect: we hear that God is the good shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and he is like the woman who seeks after her lost coin. God goes after the lost. Yet, in both stories something else happens as well: the shepherd and the woman both rejoice at the return of the lost sheep and coin. We notice this same thing in the story of the prodigal son. When the son returns the Father throws a great banquet. One theme that runs through these three parables is the great joy of God. God rejoices when the lost return. God rejoices when the sinner comes to his mercy. The central character in the three parables is God, not us. These parables are about God's mercy. Sometimes we lose sight of this fact when we read the parable of the prodigal son: Jesus is trying to teach us about the generosity of God's mercy.
Last week a parishioner asked me if I had been ordained for a year yet. No, I was ordained on Oct 31st, so not quite a year. But, her question got me to thinking about this past year. It has been quite amazing. To be a priest is more fun than any human being should be allowed to have. And some of the greatest moments I've had over the past year came in the sacrament of confession. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to help people with their burdens. People come to me hurting, sad, weighed down by their sins and because of God's gracious mercy I'm allowed to say to them: I absolve you from your sins. I think that part of what makes these experiences so profound for me, the minister, is that I get a front row seat for the conversation between the prodigal son and the Father, I get to be there when the good shepherd finds the lost sheep, when the woman finds the lost coin. The joy and enthusiasm of God for the repentant sinner flows through me in the sacrament of confession. This joy is a foretaste of the kingdom of God.
If you think about it, heaven is the party described in today's parables. The Father in heaven sent his Son to bring back those who were lost. And when the son returns with all the sinners who trusted in him, there will be an everlasting banquet. This banquet is more than we deserve. No shepherd would throw a banquet when he finds a lost sheep, no woman would call everyone to tell them she's found a coin. But, God's mercy and love is outlandish. He loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus to bring us back to Him, to search for what was lost.
In a few moments we will receive the body and blood of Christ, which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Here at this Mass it is not so much that we find Christ. Rather, Christ finds us. And while we sometimes feel like we are still a long way off, Christ catches sight of us and brings us into communion with him, for he is the good shepherd who came from the Father to seek out what was lost.