Twenty-fourth Sunday: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost
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. They said that He can’t be the Messiah because He welcomes sinners and eats with them. Eating with someone, for the ancients as well as 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 God, and they have come. He is friends with them. He loves them. He is full of joy that they have come home to the Father.
Jesus is telling us that we should be happy that others have been forgiven. He is also telling us that we should join in the joy of the Lord because we have been forgiven.
Unlike the Pharisees and scribes who saw themselves as holy and who considered everyday people as the hoard of sinners, the vast majority of us are well aware of our failures. Sometimes we think about something that we have done and feel devastated. These thoughts besiege us: How could God forgive me? Maybe I don’t even belong here, with people whose commitment to the Lord has been far more solid than mine. Perhaps at times we have an experience of God’s love in our lives and then suffer from our past even more. This is all really a normal reaction to our commitment to the Lord. The closer we come to Him, the more we are aware of the impact of the times that we did not choose Him. Maybe the problem is that we are focusing on ourselves rather than on God. 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 the past. He doesn’t carry a grudge. His focus is on our present and our presence with Him. Our return to Him is a cause of his joy.
It takes a tremendous amount of humility to recognize that God has forgiven us. We have been restored to His Love. This is His doing. His Grace. We cannot cause God’s grace to happen in our lives. We cannot cause God’s forgiveness to take place. But He does forgive us. We need to remember that God is bigger than us, infinitely bigger. And God is greater than us, infinitely greater. So what is it that we have done that we think is so bad that God would not invite us to eat with Him? Can anything we have done be beyond God’s compassion and mercy? There is nothing. There is nothing He does not forgive when we take that step and say, “Father forgive me.” His only reaction is pure joy. But if we stay mired in the past, we will have no present and no future. The Lord is calling us into our joy and calling us to move beyond whatever is holding us back. He forgives us. We need to forgive ourselves.
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, your reaction and my reaction should be: I am happy he or she is here, choosing Christ. Another’s past is not my concern. I need to be happy for him or her. I am here to eat with him or her. Sadly, I have had people say to me, “Father, that person you were joking with has really done some horrible things.” Oh, so I should avoid him or her and only spend time with the very best of people? That does not sound like the instruction the Gospel for today is presenting. Perhaps none of us may go to that extreme, but perhaps there are times that the thought comes flashing across our minds: “What is that lowlife doing here?” That is a terrible. That person is here for the same reasons that we are here: compassion, forgiveness, and love. The Lord has compassion on us because He knows what we have done to ourselves. And He has compassion on that person whose presence in Church shocks us. The Lord forgives us. The Lord forgives him or her. The Lord wants us to live in His Love. The Lord wants that person 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 I am one of them. And, with the exception of the angels among us, so are you.