• Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14 • 1 Timothy 1:12-17 • Luke 15:1-32 • 24 Ordinary C ‘13 •
Scripture Readings: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 09.15.2013
A Catholic Woman Religious by the name of Sister Beatrice tells a story of how and why she opened an orphanage in African Malawi. Learning to survive in any way they can, abandoned children often turn to crime. One day she observed a little boy stealing at a bus station. Instead of thinking of him as “a sinner” or of punishing him, she thought, “If these children can learn to be thieves, then they can learn to live a good life and to have good manners.” She understood the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Her orphanage is more than a building. It includes villagers organized to help one another. Today, because of her vision and outreach, a safe and nurturing environment is provided for about 9,500 orphans.
In Luke’s gospel, the Jewish religious leaders criticize Jesus for “welcoming and eating with tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus responds to their criticism with three parables. He was explaining his behavior but also trying to awaken everyone, including the outcasts or discards of society, to the presence of God in them and the love of God for them.
In our gospel today I intentionally omitted the third parable — the prodigal son. I did so to focus on the two shorter parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. “Who among you having 100 sheep, and losing one, will not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the one that is lost until it is found?” “What woman losing one of her ten coins will not search until she find it?”
Who are the lost? This time of economic uncertainty in which we live impacts all of us, not only the unemployed. Evaporated pension funds and inadequate health care insurance leave all of us feeling we are the lost.
Both parables conclude with the statement “there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” Most churches, preachers and authors emphasis this part of the text implying that we are “sinners.” Those who employ the word “sinner” to indicate one’s spiritual status miss the point! Yes we do fail to love, and we are easily consumed with concern about our lives and worries, but “sin” is a far bigger reality than our personal failings.
The story of Sister Beatrice and her orphans reinforces my conviction that none of us are “sinners.” Learning to survive in any way they can, abandoned children often turn to crime. If we believe, as we claim, that we are all made in God’s image, how could they or any of us be “sinners?”
So I suggest these parables are about us, but perhaps more about what happens to us than about what we do. These parables are about the “finder,” the one searching for what is lost. The lost and found theme is a great metaphor to teach us about this Gracious Mystery – the One we name God, who is totally beyond our comprehension. Listen well to these parables. The image of a judge in the sky keeping account books and balancing our lives on an eternal scale ignores these parables and is certainly inadequate; incorrect.
Luke’s Jesus used these parables to shape our image of this Gracious One who creates, guides, sustains, and never abandons us – ever!! – no matter how bewildered we may be. This Gracious One is love, dynamic and relational, always present with us, loving us, as spontaneous and illogical in searching for us as we are in searching for things we lose.
You might lose your way as you make this journey of life, but God is always present, with you, guiding you, loving you. A time like this in which we live, when it seems harder and harder to get ahead, is also a time to be mindful that God is not out there, indifferent to your struggles. God is the inner dynamic of all that is, the Cosmic Lover who acts from within, tenderly luring us and faithfully caring for us, drawing us to the fullness of life.