He who does not acquire the love of God will scarcely persevere in the grace of God, for it is very difficult to renounce sin merely through fear of chastisement. - St. Alphonsus Liguori: (1696 – 1787: was an Italian Catholic bishop, scholastic philosopher, and theologian)
Gospel Text: (LK 15:1-32)
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 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.
“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 now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
We have become quite familiar with “mission statements” which are produced by institutions, both secular and religious. These statements proclaim the purpose of the institution, what they are about, what they’re supposed to do. But all of us know that those who fulfill that mission can do so in a variety of ways, with a variety of motivations. For instance, we are familiar with the person in customer service or the teacher in the classroom who fulfills his or her task adequately, perhaps even well. But we also know that when the person in customer service or in the classroom carries out the mission with a personal passion and even with joy, it makes all the difference in the world to us the recipients.
In the first letter to Timothy today (1 TM 1:12-17) read at Mass, St Paul unveils for us what we might refer to as Jesus’ mission statement:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
This is the purpose of his life, his reason for taking on our human flesh and living our life, the reason for his life’s work and, most especially, his death and resurrection – to save sinners! But how can we know his motivation, the disposition of his heart and the heart of his Father, in the carrying out of this mission? The parables presented in the gospel today answer that question.
Each parable in its own way reveals the very heart of God, the passion of God seen in Jesus and directed toward sinners. The diligent searching of the shepherd for the lost sheep, the relentless looking of the woman for the lost coin find their greatest expression in the rejoicing that takes place at their finding. This passionate searching and above all the rejoicing—this, Jesus says, is the passion and the rejoicing in the heart of his Father in regard to sinners. And as if to leave no doubt in our minds, the eloquent Parable of the Prodigal Son reveals the One who saves sinners, who waits patiently and rejoices at the return of those who have gone astray.
The scriptures invite us to imagine that we are the object of God’s search, that we are the recipients of the gaze of that love such as we picture on the face of the father in the parable. We are invited to the embrace the truth that we are the source of God’s joy, the cause of that joy, when we allow ourselves to be found. What is it like for us to enter into that imaginative process? What do we feel and think as we allow ourselves to be in that gaze? The answer to those questions makes all the difference in the world!