September 15, 2019 -- Sunday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time of Year C
The mist distinctive thing we can say about God's love is that it is co-extensive with God's mercy. Insofar as Jesus has called each one of us to love others as he has loved us (Jn 15:132), then we need better to understand how we are called to love in this merciful way. Today's readings -- all of which focus on God's mercy -- will help us to do just that.
In the Gospel, Jesus describes the depth of God's mercy, which he incarnates. A few months ago, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, we encountered the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Today, we read that parable in its context with the two other shorter parables Jesus gives us in Luke 15, that of the lost sheep and the lost coin. If we discover what is common to each of the three illustrations the Lord uses, we will understand better both the parables and God's mercy which they highlight.
The first thing all three have in common is how Jesus views each sinner. He doesn't describe the one who sins as a malicious person, as an evil man or woman. Instead he says the sinner is LOST, like the "lost sheep', the "lost coin", and the son who was "lost and then found". We are lost whenever we are not where we should be. We are lost whenever God is not in sight, whenever we wander out of ear-shot of the voice of the Good Shepherd, whenever we treat the Father practically as if he is dead and leaves his house. Sometimes, like the prodigal son, we can be lost even before we renounce our filial dignity and leave the Father's house. Reconciliation is rediscovery -- the rediscovery of the love of the Good Shepherd who leaves the other 99 behind to come for us, the re-awareness of the Father's love, who runs out to greet us and immediately restores us to our status as his beloved sons, and the recognition, in this having been found, of who we really are.
The second thing all three having in common is the unbelievable joy God experiences upon such a reconciliation. After having found the lost sheep, the Shepherd cannot contain this joy, calls together his friends and neighbors and says "REJOICE WITH ME, for I have found my sheep that was lost!". He wants others to share in the joy as well. In the parable of the woman with the lost coin, she also calls her friends and neighbors and says "REJOICE WITH ME, for I have found the coin I had lost". [Sometimes people can wonder how much sense this second parable makes. We've all lost things and found them again, and very seldom would we ever call anyone else to celebrate with us the rediscovery. But most scholars believe that the coin Jesus referred to was one of those that would hang from the woman's wedding veil, which constituted her dowry. Not only was the coin precious in terms of its monetary value, but it was also priceless in terms of its meaning. It would as if a wife, today, lost her wedding ring. If she found it again, especially if she feared never finding it again, her joy would be immense.] Lastly, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father embraces his son, does three things to show that his Son will be treated as a Son and not as a slave -- puts a ring on his finger, a nice robe on his back, and sandals on his feet, symbolic that he was no longer a slave to sin but free to walk in the ways of the Lord -- and has the fatted calf slaughtered for a huge celebration, full of singing and dancing. "We had to celebrate and rejoice", the Father says, "because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life. He was lost and has been found".
In that joyful expression of the Father, we learn other crucial elements about sin, reconciliation with God, and the joy that results from it. Jesus compares the forgiveness of sin to RESURRECTION. Someone who is dead comes to life again. From this we can discover a few things:
a) By means of the parable, Jesus tells us that sin kills us -- which is why St. John, and the Church after him, refers to serious sin as "mortal" (1 John 5:16-17). But just ass God raised Jesus from the dead -- Jesus was killed because of all of our sins -- so God wants to raise us from the dead, each time we've sinned, so that he might be able to raise us forever.
b) If every reconciliation is a resurrection, we can understand why "heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than for ninety-nine righteous persons who need his repentance, "for the angels of God" rejoice over each such resurrection as they did on Easter Sunday.
c) We can also see why it is fitting the Jesus established the Sacrament of His Mercy on EASTER SUNDAY evening, because he wanted explicitly to associate the Sacrament of Forgiveness to his Resurrection. He walked through the doors of the Upper Room and said, "Just as the Father sent me" -- and the Father had sent him to forgive and save sinners -- "so I send you". He was going to send them out with the same mission of reconciliation. Since they could not forgive sins for God without God's power, Jesus breathed on them, said "Receive the Holy Spirit", and then gave them the instruction, "Those whose sins you have forgiven, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained" (Jn 20:19-23). Jesus uses priests as his instruments to give us his flesh and blood and allow us to share in Holy Thursday, so he uses those same priests as his instruments to give us his mercy and allow us to share, personally, in this world, in his resurrection.
May we always return to the Father in the Sacrament of Confession so that He can rejoice as he brings us back to life.