Year C: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Luke 15: 1-32 

The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The Parable of The Lost Son

Then he said, “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”‘ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Each of these parables is about losing and finding. When in your life have you been a lost or prodigal son? Tell the story
  2. Do you find it hard to believe that God has truly forgiven you for your sins? What effect does this have on your faith life?
  3. In what ways or situations do you find yourself becoming more aware of your own spiritual blindness?
  4. How does the story of the Prodigal Son help you in your relationship with God?

Biblical Context

Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
Luke 15: 1-32

It seems safe to say that Jesus’ three parables about the lost coin, sheep and son were welcomed with joy by the tax collectors and sinners and with a touch of resentment by the Pharisees and scribes. While Jesus’ words assured his sinful listeners of God’s love and mercy, those same words challenged the resentful ones to set aside their judgments, which were God’s alone to render, and to open their hearts to God’s magnanimous love.

While the first two parables introduce the third, they also help to steadily increase the pathos of the narrative. If there can be so much joy over the finding of a lost coin or a lost sheep, how much more will heaven and earth rejoice over a son who was lost and is found!

When the son asked for his share of his father’s property, he was within his legal rights (Num 26:7-9), but in doing so he was, in effect, declaring his father dead to him, for such a dissolution of property usually happened after someone (the father) died. Money in hand, he made his way to what could only have been gentile territory, because after he lost it all, he took a job feeding pigs. These animals were regarded as unclean by Jews (Lev 11:7), who neither ate nor raised them.

When the son “came to his senses” (v. 17, a term for turning back to God in repentance), he knew his father had no legal obligation to him, but he returned home nevertheless. How encouraging for all who sin! God has no legal obligation to us, but we know God to be merciful and forgiving, like the father who set all dignity and logic aside and ran to welcome his son not as a hired hand but as a beloved child.

Unfortunately, we might see something of ourselves in the elder son. Angry, resentful and full of his own importance, he refused to accept his brother or his father’s willingness to forgive and forget. Brendan Byrne (op.cit.) would have us be mindful of the details in the elder son’s angry spiel. First, he thinks of himself as a servant (“for years I served you”). He thinks that his service should have earned him a decent reward; he is in a contract relationship with his father. He disowns his brother, calling him “your son.” He resents the fact that the younger son has “swallowed up” the property, lessening the amount that would eventually have fallen to himself. He is not willing to rejoice because he is not willing to love. There the parable ends, and we are left to wonder: Well, where do I stand?

Can I love a God whose extravagant mercy will forgive every sin? If I recognize myself as a sinner, oh yes, I can love such a God. But if I count myself among the faithful and the righteous, doesn’t God owe me? Isn’t it only right that my efforts be recognized and rewarded? The answer to both questions is “No!” The parable challenges those who think themselves righteous to look upon others with compassion and to look inward with honesty and humility. No sinner is irretrievably lost, and we will not find any self-canonized saints in heaven.

Lost and Found

Deacon Ross Beaudoin

A few years ago an older couple asked me what they could do with their grandson. I asked what they meant by that. They told me they were at their wits’ end trying to help him. His parents had given up on him. So, the grandparents were doing what they could. But their finances were being depleted and they were frustrated.

It seems that their grandson, we’ll call him James, had written bad checks. He had been arrested and convicted more than once. James had repeatedly spent time in the county jail, and the rest of his time he was on parole or probation, and getting into trouble again. There seemed to be no end to this situation. The grandparents were not willing to give up on James, though. After some counseling, they realized that they could not put out any more money to cover James’ bad checks. He would have to go “cold turkey” on paying his own restitution.

At long last, James came to his senses and began to open a new chapter in his life. He stayed out of trouble, got a job and began to meet his financial obligations. All along, his grandparents were there for him with love and encouragement.

From Jesus’ stories in today’s Gospel, the grandparents were mirroring the love and mercy of God in their love and care for their grandson. God’s merciful love for James was coming through his grandparents. And I imagine that God was working in James’ parents, too, encouraging them to find a place in their hearts for mercy toward their son. Of course, they were free to accept or reject God’s grace. It took a while. It was long after James had turned the corner that his parents welcomed him back.

I believe that God was also working within James and in the court and jail staff as well. How else could James, like the wayward son in the Gospel story, finally find himself and return to his family and to God?

There are surely times in each of our lives when we are off the mark and need to find our way back. It might be in relationships, in honesty, in our prayer life. Jesus’ story tells us that God is always looking for us, waiting for our return. God never tires of standing by the road watching, ready to embrace us.

In the First Letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he was mercifully treated by God, though he was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” Paul’s assessment was that he “acted out of ignorance in unbelief.” In that respect, Paul was like the lost sheep in the first parable in today’s Gospel. God was patient and sought out Paul in his violent ignorance and arrogance. “Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” Paul would later write, and he saw himself as among “the foremost sinners.”

There is hope for all of us! No matter whether we are willful or ignorant sinners, God’s mercy is not lacking. God will watch for us and embrace us the moment we turn to him. There are also times in our lives when you and I must be the visible face of our loving and merciful God. We become the longing of God for the return of those who are lost. As disciples of Jesus, we bring the mercy and love of God to life.

Where are we in the “lost and found” of life today? The lost will be found because God will keep looking for them, sometimes through us. When they are found, there is going to be a great and lavish party to celebrate. Be ready to join in!