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.’”
What makes God happy? Often, we say to ourselves: "what do you get for the guy who has everything?" The idea is that someone who has a lot of economic means cannot be easily satisfied simply with more material gifts. God would seem to fit into this category. He created the universe. What could he possibly receive that would bring him joy? What can we give to God?
In today's Gospel, we receive three parables that transmit the same message about God's love. God is crazy because of His love for us. His greatest desire is that we all make it to Heaven. He tries to get this across with three different stories.
Any shepherd would understand the first example very well. Sheep were grazing animals and the shepherds would have to take them long distances to find sufficient pasture. Not being the brightest of animals, the sheep would also wander into thickets or get lost behind rocks. If the shepherd were not to seek them out, they would simply disappear, probably providing a tasty meal for some wolves. But the shepherd would look for them. It would be too much of a loss to leave them. It was bad enough how many came down with illness or were torn apart by wild animals. He could not simply abandon a lost sheep. So his joy would be great when he could finally bring a lost sheep back to the flock. Jesus rejoices when he saves us from an evil outcome.
The second example mentions ten coins, one of which is lost. The woman of the story is distraught, thinking that she has lost a tenth of all her possessions. A coin was something of determined value. It represented buying power and would often be composed of precious metals. So often, when I speak to people in the confessional, I see people who are distraught and do not see their self-worth. I try to bring them a little bit of hope and communicate God's great love and appreciation for them. For many, it is difficult to accept, but it is important if they are going to love themselves rightly and love those around them authentically. Jesus rejoices when he saves us because he values us as something precious.
The story of the Prodigal Son is poignant. We can read it over and over again, without exhausting the richness of the text. A young man who has lost his birthright through his own fault comes into bitter suffering. But his father rushes out onto the road to embrace him when he returns home. God rushes to embrace us as well. Jesus values us as his beloved children and this is what he sees in confession.
"The one important thing for the father is that his son has been found. The embrace between him and the prodigal son becomes a celebration of forgiveness and joy. This is a moving Gospel scene that reveals in full detail the attitude of our Father in heaven, who is 'rich in mercy' (cf. Eph 2:4)." (John Paul II, 1999) God reveals himself as rich in mercy every time that we go to confession, with a sincere desire for conversion of life.
What makes God happy? It makes him happy when we return to him. We learn to place our concerns on hold often when we love someone. God waits for us intentionally. He wants us to come back to Him. He desires our return. So when we do go ack, it is a source of great joy for him.
Another good piece of news is that none of us is left out. Sometimes, people feel that they have never strayed far from the Father's house. The older son of the parable serves as a warning for them. Even if we are not guilty of grave sin, we have need of repentance and return to the Father. We too are beloved sons and daughters whom the Father rushes to embrace, with tears of joy in His eyes. Will you let your Good Father embrace you?
John Paul II. (1999). General Audience. https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_17021999.html
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