Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 15th September

Luke 15:1–10 (short form)

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were
coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling
and saying, 'This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.' So he told them
this parable: 'Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is
lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and
rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours,
saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was
lost." Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one
sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no
repentance. 'Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them,
does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds
it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours,
saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost."
Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one
sinner who repents.'

Commentary

In this section of his gospel (15:1-32),
Luke has collected three parables of Jesus which bring out the note of divine
mercy towards shiners. The third parable, popularly known as the Prodigal Son,
we read and explained on the Forth Sunday of Lent. Today, we follow the short
form.

The Pharisees, who used to gather their
robes tightly around themselves when walking in public places, lest they
accidentally should touch a sinner, objected violently to the freedom and
familiarity with which Jesus treated these unfortunate people. On this
occasion, Jesus, well aware of their criticism of the sympathy and pity with
which he received tax collectors and other sinners, tells the scribes and
Pharisees the following parables or stories.

First of the parable is the hundred sheep. Palestine
was a pastoral country, every village had its shepherds and flocks of sheep and
goats. The story or parable which Jesus used therefore, was easily understood
by all his audience. There was not a man amongst them who would not act as
Jesus’ shepherd acted. Jesus rounded numbers to facilitate the understanding of
the story and to make it vivid.

When Jesus said the shepherd left the
ninety-nine, it does not mean that the shepherd loses interest in them. No
shepherd could be so foolish. He sees that they are safely protected before he
sets out. The emphasis is on the interest the shepherd has in each sheep. Out
of a hundred, one would not be a big loss but because he is interested in all
of his sheep, he does not wish to lose any of them.

The lost sheep probably is too wary after
its wanderings to walk back to the sheep-fold. The shepherd thinks nothing of
his own tiredness or of the extra weight, he is do delighted to have found it
that he places the sheep on his shoulders and returns to his base.

He is so overjoyed that he invites his
neighbours and friends to come along and celebrate with him the recovery of his
lost sheep. Jesus then applies the parable to the spiritual world, for the
benefit of the scribes and Pharisees and emphasizing on the finding of the lost
one. Not that the ninety-nine were not valuable or esteemed; the joy is
complete because the number is again complete. God wants all men and women to
be happy with him in heave. He will go to any lengths, including a search for
lost ones (sinners), even though he has already many just ones, in order to see
this wish of his fulfilled. We should note “who need no repentance”, which is a
clear hint of Jesus for the Pharisees who felt that they were perfect and had
no need for repentance.

Jesus then told them another parable, a
woman and ten silver coins, to drive home the same lesson. It was customary for
Jewish girls to get a dowry of string of silver coins on their marriage day.
This ornament was worn around the neck or as a band over their foreheads. To
lose one might spoil the beauty of the ornament, or perhaps it would look liked
carelessness on the part of the woman concerned. A married woman would guard
such a souvenir just as a wife today will guard and cherish her wedding ring.

To find the lost coin inside the house,
which was normally dark at Jesus’ time because of no windows, she has to light
a lamp, and she sweeps the floor of the one-room house from wall to wall and
searches among the collected bits and pieces until she finds the lost coin.

Like the shepherd, she is so delighted to
find the lost coin that she wants to share her joy with all those around her.
They in turn rejoice for they realise hoe greatly she grieved over the loss of
this coin.

Again, Jesus told the crowds, all the
residents of heaven will rejoice with God when a sinner who was lost is found,
when one who had abandoned his Lord and loving benefactor repents and comes
back to God once more.

The lesson that these parables, made up by
Jesus, has for us is clearly a lesson of hope and confidence in the infinite
mercy of God in his dealing with us. We are all sinners in one way or another.
We have all gone astray, got lost like the sheep and the coin in those
parables, sometime or other. What is worse, we are all capable of going astray
from God again at any moment. If we had only the justice of God to deal with we
might well despair, our chances of reaching heaven would be slight indeed.

We are dealing, however, with a God of
infinite mercy, who loves us with a love we cannot grasp or understand. All
this infinite mercy of God is there for our benefit as long as we have the
breath of life in us in this world. The whole of Old Testament is full of
examples and proofs of this mercy of God for man. It is in the New Testament,
however, which begins with that almost incredible act of divine mercy, the
Incarnation, that the infinite mercy of God for all mankind is seen in its
fullness. So, let us, who are all sinners to a greater or lesser degree, turn
to God today with a truly contrite heart. God will do the rest. Amen.