In today’s Gospel of St Luke, Jesus’ proclamation of the Parables of the “Lost sheep” and then “the Lost Coin” and finally the “Lost Son” are powerful reminders to all of us to take this “Year of Mercy” more seriously, that is, if we have not been doing so. In these three parables, Jesus was proclaiming to the Pharisees and the scribes, and indeed today, to all of us present here, that God is full of Mercy for sinners and filled with Compassion for those who are suffering.
We are all familiar with these three fold parables. The context of these three Parables is Jesus addressing the Pharisees and the scribes who want to have nothing to do with “sinners” i.e. those who did not keep the Jewish Laws.
As such, for them, to allow their daughter to marry a “sinner” is like exposing her bound and helpless to a lion. They had regulations to ensure that these “sinners” are people whom they should not trust with any money or any secrets; they are never to accept their testimonies, neither appoint them as guardians to orphans nor accompany them on a journey. A Pharisee is also forbidden to be the guest of and as far as possible have no business dealings with them . . . for to have any contact with such “sinners” would be to risk being defiled by their sinfulness. As such the Pharisees and the scribes were shocked when they saw Jesus not only welcoming these “sinners” but also eating with them.
In the Parable of the Lost sheep, Jesus explains how every single sheep is precious to the shepherd. If one goes astray and is lost, the shepherd would leave the ninety nine sheep to the rest of the other shepherds and go looking for the lost sheep, who is in danger of being attacked by wolves,or may injure himself on sharp rocks or fall over the steep cliffs. And, when the shepherd finds it, he would embrace it with great love, carry it on his shoulders and return home. And, when the community sees the shepherd returning with the lost sheep, they would all rejoice and celebrate, because someone in the community was lost, and has now returned; they rejoice because they are now complete again, for without the lost sheep, they were never fully complete, and cannot fully rejoice.
Indeed, Jesus says, “there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is much we can learn from this Parable of the Lost Sheep if we ponder on it, and ask ourselves, “If someone in my family, or a friend, relative or a member of my church community goes astray, how would we feel for the person?” “Would we feel sad and worried?” If we don’t then perhaps, we do not love the person deeply enough, but if we do then as Jesus reminds us, in the “Parable of the Lost Sheep”, are we willing to leave the ninety nine sheep we have and look for the lost sheep? In other words, are we willing to be detached from our material possessions, riches and what we value much, so that we can focus our attention and energy on bringing the “lost and suffering sheep” home?
There is a true story of Jack (not his real name), who loves his family deeply and works so very hard to give his family the very best of everything: a good and comfortable home, a big car, the best education possible for his children, and the luxuries that his good wife would indulge in. Jack was most happy when he was with his family, and when there was joy and love in the home.
However, Jack’s deep desires for his family is never really met. His heart is constantly wounded and he is crying almost every night at seeing his teenage son rebelling against him and refusing even to show him, as the father, the basic respect that is expected. Jack’s heart is torn; he is helpless, lonely and even depressed. He constantly turns to God in his prayer and at Masses, but his son continues to “stray” from the family. While, I feel deeply sorry for Jack, there is very little we can do for his son who simply refuses to change his ways, and continues to cause so much hurt, pain and division in the home.
My sisters and brothers, in such a case, Jack can only hold on to his faith, and be assured that God our Lord, the “Good Shepherd” has left the flock and is out searching for his son; the sheep who has strayed from his home.
This true story of Jack may be happening to us in different ways. If like Jack, we are angry and tempted to punish our straying child, then we will end up driving him further away from the home where he truly belongs. But, if like Jack, we know that we deeply love our straying child, but are truly helpless as to what we can do for him, then today’s “Parable of the Lost Sheep” is simply reminding us that we have to wait and trust that the “Good Shepherd” who has gone to look for our stray sheep, whom we love deeply in spite of the wrongs he has done, will one day bring him back, even though battered and bruised, to the loving embrace of our home, our family and loved ones.
If we were to ponder further on the “Parable of the Lost Coin”, climaxing in the Parable of the Lost Son,” we will discover even more deeply the mystery of God’s Mercy and Compassionate Love not only for us personally, but for every person who is going through much pain, sin and suffering in their lives.
In the “Parable of the Lost Son” we see the unconditional Love and Mercy of his Father, who symbolises how much God Loves us. The son who squanders his wealth through his sinful living, is welcome by His Father, who embraces him with a Mercy that reinstates his dignity as his son, and celebrates his return home with a grand banquet; for as Jesus says, “he was dead and has come to live; he was lost and is found”.
As a priest, when we hear the “Confession” of repentant sinners who have left the church for many years, or those who have strayed into serious sins, like the Mercy of the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we welcome their repentance and return to the family of God with great Compassion and Joy, in the Lord. Like our Compassionate Lord, we as Confessors do not judge sinners, we are called simply to be God’s ministers of Mercy to reconcile them to God our Father’s Loving embrace, as Jesus our Lord Loves them so totally and unconditionally that He willingly died for their sins.
If we reflect on the reality of relationships that have broken, especially those that have suffered so severely for so long, we know that humanly speaking, it is virtually impossible to heal such deep wounds especially when the hurt and harm have even destroyed our families. “How do we restore a shattered window”, we may ask?
My brothers and sisters, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that, if any of us here are feeling that way then, let us never forget that God our Father’s Merciful and Forgiving Love is infinitely greater than the greatest sins that we have committed, or can ever commit. Jesus in today’s “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” or more appropriately called, the “Parable of the Loving Father,” wants us to remember that this is True, and this indeed is the essence of our Faith in Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Lord.Indeed, if our hearts are humble enough to receive God’s Merciful and Forgiving Love, then there are no sins that cannot be forgiven. Jesus Himself testifies to this divine Truth, when He, while hanging on His Cross, prays for those who have so cruelly condemned and crucified Him as a criminal, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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