24th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
I read the "shorter version" of our Gospel today, but I want to say just a word about the two parables I skipped—two parables that are very familiar to us: the "lost sheep" and the "lost coin." These two parables provide an introduction and a context for the longer and more important parable of the "prodigal son."
In the first parable, one sheep out of 99 wanders off, and the shepherd leaves the 99 to go find it. In the second parable, a woman turns her house upside down searching for a lost coin that is worth only a nickel or a penny.
Both parables don’t make a lot of sense: 1) a shepherd doesn’t leave 99 sheep in danger to find one lost sheep. 2) A woman doesn’t turn her house upside down to find a penny. The parables illustrate what St. Catherine of Siena calls a God who is "crazy in love with us." A crazy shepherd who risks everything for us; a crazy woman who values us perhaps more than we are really worth.
With that, we come to the parable of the Prodigal Son—one of the most important parables in the Gospel. The question is this: who is the true "prodigal"? (extravagant)
The story begins with the son insulting the father—wishing him dead so that he could have his inheritance. The father swallows his pride and gives him his inheritance, and the son squanders all of it. Coming to his senses, the son decides to return home.
Maybe "tough love" would be appropriate here, to teach this arrogant son a lesson? But no. Not this prodigal father—who has been searching for his son since the day he left. When the father sees him coming, he runs to greet him, embracing him, kissing him.
What can we say about this parable? It’s almost too good to be true! Despite our human weakness, despite our sins, God is crazy in love with us.
Two final comments. First, the older son. This is an important element of the story that is often dismissed. The older son is a reminder that not everyone welcomes or accepts a God who is crazy in love with us—some think sinners should be punished for their sins. While the rest of us try to live good lives, what does God do? He welcomes the sinner. We—like the older son— say, what about me?
The fact is, that we are all sinners—and God loves all of us the same.
And the second point is this: there is a certain feeling among us that we have to be perfect, sinless, saintly, before God will love and care for us. But that is not what the Gospel says—that is not the story of Jesus. Always remember St. Paul who said, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
A word that ties all three parables together? Joy. The joy of the shepherd. The joy of the woman. The joy of the father, crazy in love with us.