Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10
In Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke (15:1-32), we hear Jesus tell three famous parables: ""The Lost Sheep," "The Lost Coin," and "The Lost Son." Jesus tells these parables to the Pharisees and the scribes who complain that He "welcomes sinners and eats with them." In the parables of "the Lost Sheep" and "The Lost Coin," Jesus is trying to show the Pharisees and the scribes that "there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents." He is trying to show them that He, in the words of our second reading from 1 Timothy, "came into the world to save sinners."
The same can be said of the parable of "The Lost (or Prodigal) Son." In that parable, a father rejoices over the return of his younger son, who goes away with his share of the inheritance, spends it all on a "life of dissipation," finds himself in "dire need," when the country he is in suffers a "severe famine," comes to his senses, and comes back home. When the older son discovers that the father celebrates the return of his brother, instead of punishing him or rejecting him, he gets angry, and will not join in the celebration. The father pleads with his older son, but Jesus does not include in the parable what the older brother ultimately does. All Jesus tells us is that the younger, or prodigal, son repents of his sin, comes back to his father, and is welcomed back with open arms.
In the parable, the younger son recognizes that he is indeed, "lost." He realizes that his selfishness and his desire for self-gratification has led him astray from where he was supposed to be. The older son, however, even though he did not leave home, is "lost" but does not recognize it. He is lost because he cannot see the love the father has for him. His lack of trust in his father’s love has led him astray. And the Pharisees and the scribes, for whom these parables were intended, are also "lost," but do not acknowledge it. They have been led astray by their arrogance, which has led them to deny their own need for mercy and forgiveness, and to look down upon others, whom they consider "sinners.".
Are we willing to acknowledge that we are in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness? Are we willing to concede that there are times when we have been "lost?" We can see from the example of the Pharisees and the scribes who complained about Jesus, and from the parable of "The Lost Son," that there are many things that can lead us astray, such as pride and lust and lack of trust in God. The remarkable thing, however, is that no matter how far we have gone astray, we can always go back! We can always repent and turn back to the God who loves us so much!
Perhaps it is a good time, then, to examine where we are in our lives. Are we lost? We need not be afraid to admit it. Are there attitudes and behaviors that lead us astray from where we’re supposed to be? By the grace and love of God in Jesus Christ, we can let those attitudes and behaviors go. We don’t have to be stuck where we are. Instead, we can follow Jesus, and be "found," once again, awash in God’s grace.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.