Luke 15:1-32
God's Longing and Active Pursuit
by Rev. Jack Peterson, YA   
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, 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 have 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.

"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."

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 not we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"

We are graced this Sunday to ponder three unique parables in Lukeís Gospel that bring into clear focus the longing God has for us to be close to him as well as his active pursuit of us.

Recall that a parable is a handcrafted story told by Jesus to teach us important truths about God and ourselves. They give Jesus the opportunity to reveal certain truths with precision.

In the first parable, Jesus describes a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep who have not strayed in pursuit of one lost sheep. This was not a common practice for shepherds in Jesusí day. In fact, it was an absurd shepherding tactic because the shepherd risks losing many more sheep from thieves and wild animals while he is searching for the one. Jesus shocks his followers and suggests that each and every one of us is so important to him that he would go to extreme measures to track down the lost and carry us back on his shoulders to the fold where he protects, nourishes and is personally present to us.

The second story is equally absurd from a common sense standpoint. A woman loses a coin, commences an all-out search of the house until she finds it and proceeds to call her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her over the lost coin. She then spends more on her celebration with her friends and neighbors than the coin is worth. This suggests, from another angle, that Jesus is so full of joy when lost disciples are found that his celebration is above and beyond all expectations. The focus in this short parable is, again, on the intensity of the search and the largess of the joy.

Finally, Our Lord recounts the rather famous story of the prodigal son. The father is the absurd one in this story. First, he divides half of his estate and gives it to the young, immature son. What father would ever do that? Next, aware that the son has squandered his inheritance on dissolute living (a reality which, in that religious and cultural context, resulted in being formally banned from the family), the father glimpses his son from a distance as if he went looking for him at the edge of his property every day. Then, the father runs to his son, embraces him and kisses him. (Elder men never ran in that culture.) The father proceeds to restore the son to the family with fine robes and a ring and then throws a festive party. Again, we see the extraordinary longing for the return and the joy that knows no bounds.

These parables warm our hearts, invite us to ever deeper levels of repentance and fill us with gratitude. St. Paul speaks of his return with enormous gratitude in our second reading: ďI was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated Ö Indeed, the grace of Our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.Ē

We recently celebrated the memorial of a saint who imitated beautifully Godís longing and active pursuit. St. Monica, a woman of deep faith in Our Lord, greatly desired that her son know and love Jesus. It was her great mission in life. Her son, Augustine, ran from his motherís Catholic faith. He was brilliant and traversed the world in search of truth, embracing some of the latest intellectual fads of the day. He fell for a while under the spell of the raging Manichean heresy.

Monica spent her energies encouraging the true faith and pouring out her tears in prayer for the return of St. Augustine. She physically pursued him to Rome and Milan. Finally, with the assistance of St. Ambrose in Milan, Augustine converted to the Catholic faith. St. Monica died soon thereafter a very contented and grateful woman.

Do you grasp the intensity of Godís desire to have you draw close to him? Are you committed to helping him pursue others who have wandered from the flock of Christ?

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