Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel for the Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, September 11, 2022. The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection September 11 2022. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Agaath, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons; Duccio di Buoninsegna, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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.'”
The gospel for last week focused on being prepared for the difficulties and alienation that will be part of being a disciple of Jesus. What follows after that in Luke’s gospel is a short teaching from Jesus that draws on the everyday experience of salt that has lost its usefulness and needs to be discarded. Luke then records Jesus telling the three parables about the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son that make up today’s gospel. The last parable, about the prodigal son, was the gospel text for the fourth Sunday of Lent during this C cycle of readings, and it may be omitted as part of the proclaimed gospel this Sunday. However, these three parables highlight the joy of God in finding the lost, following the criticism of the Pharisees and scribes in the first verse of this gospel text.
The first verse of the text describes the situation. Jesus was associating with tax collectors and sinners. The traditional wisdom of the Pharisees would have understood there to be a vast difference between feeding sinners and sitting down to dinner with one. The first was praiseworthy; the second was unthinkable, because it made the person themself unclean and unfit for God’s realm. Jesus’ eating with sinners and tax collectors was for a similar reason unacceptable to the Pharisees and scribes. In the three parables of this gospel text, Jesus addressed their attitude and their way of looking at what it is that truly pleases God.
In the first parable Jesus describes a shepherd in a desert who loses one sheep and leaves 99 behind to find the one that has gone astray. Shepherds were ritually unclean and looked down upon. Jesus’ question, “What man among you having….” is asking them to think of themselves as outcast unclean shepherds. This kind of question would have been taken as an insult.
The second parable does not ask this question directly, but implies, “Which WOMAN among you, having ten coins, and losing one…?” There were no women among the scribes or the Pharisees. Women were considered inferior to men. In Jesus’ era, men and woman did not associate in public together. These parables have an edge to them that is not immediately apparent to the contemporary reader. What is apparent is the lavish response of both the shepherd and the woman when they find what has been lost. Their joy cannot be contained, so friends and neighbors are invited to join the celebration.
The third and longest parable has come to be known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. “Prodigal” can be used as either an adjective or a noun. As an adjective, it describes one who is excessive or extravagant. As a noun it means wasteful. The text certainly suggests that the younger son is extravagant in the way he spent his inheritance. But it also hints that the older brother would have longed for the reckless abandon his younger brother had come into. He accuses his father of favoritism and of not even giving him a goat to celebrate with his friends. He is more concerned that he had not gotten his share of the estate to have his own celebration than he is concerned about how his brother, his father, or their community perceive his absence from the festivities.
In terms of extravagance, the father outdoes both sons. The father totally abandons his own interests and jeopardizes his reputation in the community. First, he gives the younger son his portion of the estate before his own death. He is risking his future means of support in both the giving of the money to the son and in letting him abandon his responsibility to care for him in his old age. When the son returns, the father’s behavior is imprudent. He hosts a lavish party and risks his own reputation in the community, who has good reason to view him as a man unable to manage his sons and his resources. But he kills the fatted calf, not a sheep or a goat. This provides enough food for the entire community. If they attend a banquet that celebrates the restoration of the son, they are bound to also accept the restored relationship.
It is the actions of the eldest son that connect the parables to the beginning of the gospel text. His attitude mirrors that of the scribes and Pharisees, who see themselves as faithfully fulfilling all their religious obligations, but they have lost the ability to be compassionate toward the sinners. The parables that Jesus tells contrast the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees with God’s attitude. God cannot help but celebrate the return; God’s joy cannot be contained, and it flows out to friends and neighbors as they are invited to join the celebration
Considering the context of this text in Luke’s gospel can also be helpful. Ever since Jesus determined to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), he has been teaching the disciples about the values of the reign of God and the cost of discipleship. These three parables can also be seen as part of that instruction. The Pharisees’ and the scribes’ approach to proclaiming the reign of God is to protect their relationship with God by remaining careful about the sacredness of that relationship. In doing so they model a faithful life with God to others. Jesus in these parables presents an alternative way of inviting people to a relationship with God. The parables here proclaim a God who rejoices when even one of the sinners returns, and whose joy is cause for lavish celebration.
- Recall a time when you believed you had lost something/someone precious. What were some of the thoughts and feelings that went through you?
- Have you ever reconnected with a friend after you had been separated for an extended time? What was your reunion like?
- Does your desire to do what is right, and staying away from temptations, prevent you from taking the risks of reaching out to others?
- Who are the people in your community who seem to be able to be both personally centered in God and able to be comfortable among outcasts?
- Jesus asked the scribes and the Pharisees to imagine themselves as a shepherd or a woman. Why would Jesus ask the Pharisees to imagine themselves as a shepherd or a woman?
- What would Jesus ask you to imagine yourself as?
- Can you take some time to talk with God openly about whatever it is that most struck you in these three parables?