Lectio Divina: 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
The parables of the lost things
Meeting God in life
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
Today’s Gospel gives us three parables to help us consider in depth our image of God. The image that a person has of God influences greatly his or her way of thinking and acting. For instance, the image of God as a severe judge frightens the person and renders that person too submissive and passive or rebellious and riotous. The image of God as patriarch or boss, was and is still used to legitimize relationships of power and dominion, in society and in the Church, in the family as well as in the community. In Jesus’ days, the idea that people had of God was of someone distant, severe, a judge who threatened with punishment. Jesus reveals a new image of God: God as Father, full of kindness for all and each one individually. This is what these thr ee parables want to communicate to us.
As you read, try to pause on each detail and, above all, let the words penetrate and challenge you. Try to discover what they have in common and try to compare this with your image of God. Only then, try to analyze the details of each parable: attitudes, actions, words, place, atmosphere, etc.
c) A division of the text to assist with the reading:
Luke 15:1-3: The key to the meaning of the three parables.
Luke 15:4-7: In the first parable, you are invited to find the lost sheep.
Luke 15:8-10: In the second parable, the woman tries to find the lost coin.
Luke 15:11-32: In the third parable, the father tries to find his lost son.
Luke 15:11-13: The decision of the younger son.
Luke 15:14-19: The frustration of the younger son and the will to go back to the father’s house.
Luke 15:20-24: The father’s joy in finding his younger son again.
Luke 15:25-28b:The older son’s reaction.
Luke 15:28a-30: The father’s attitude towards his older son and the son’s reply.
Luke 15:31-32: The father’s final reply.
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.’”
3. A moment of prayerful silence
that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased or struck you most in the three parables? Why?
b) What is the main point of the parable of the lost sheep?
c) What is the main point of the parable of the lost coin?
d) What is the younger son’s attitude and what image does he have of his father?
e) What is the older son’s attitude and what image does he have of his father?
f) What is the father’s attitude towards each of his sons?
g) Do I identify with the younger or the older son? Why?
h) What do these three parables share in common?
i) Does our community reveal to others this love of God as Father that is full of kindness?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context then and now:
The 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel holds a central place in Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem. This journey begins in Luke 9:51 and ends in Luke 19:29. The 15th chapter is like the top of the hill from which we can see the journey already traveled and the rest of the journey to come. It is the chapter of God’s warm kindness and mercy, themes that are Luke’s main concern. The communities must be a revelation of the face of this God for humanity.
We have three parables here. Jesus’ parables have a precise purpose. These short stories taken from real life try to lead the listeners to reflect on their own life and discover there a particular aspect of God’s presence. In the parables there are two types of stories of life. Some stories are not normal and are not usual occurrences in daily life. For instance, the father’s goodness towards his younger son is not usual. Generally, fathers act much more severely towards children who behave like the younger son in the parable. Other stories are normal and are usual events in daily life, for instance the attitude of the woman who sweeps the house to look for the lost coin. As we shall see, these are different ways of urging people to think about life and about the presence of God in life.
b) A commentary on the text:
Luke 15:1-2: The key to the meaning of the three parables.
The three parables in chapter 15 are preceded by this information: "The tax collectors and sinners, however, were all crowding round to listen to Him, and the Pharisees and scribes complained saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!’" (Lk 15:1). On the one hand there are the sinners and publicans, on the other the Pharisees and scribes, and between the two groups stands Jesus. This was also happening in the 80’s when Luke was writing his Gospel. The pagans approached the communities, wanting to join and take part. Many of the brothers complained, saying that to welcome a pagan was against Jesus’ teaching. The parables helped them discern. In the three parables we notice the same concern: to show what must be done to regain what was lost: the lost sheep (Lk 15:4-7), the lost coin (Lk 15:8-10), the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32).
Luke 15:3-7: In the first parable you are invited to recover the lost sheep.
Jesus speaks to His listeners: “If one of you has a hundred sheep…”. He says “one of you”. This means that you are challenged! You, he, she, all of us are challenged! We are asked to challenge ourselves with the strange and unlikely story of the parable. Jesus asks, “Which one of you with a hundred sheep, if he lost one, would fail to leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the missing one till he found it?” What is your answer to Jesus’ question? The way the question is put, we understand that Jesus thinks the answer must be positive. But will it be so? Will it be positive? Would you run the risk of losing ninety-nine sheep in order to find the lost one? I hear a different reply in my heart: “I am very sorry, but I cannot do this. It would be silly to leave the ninety-nine sheep in the desert to find the lost one!” But God’s love is above all normal rules of behavior. Only God can do such a crazy thing, so strange, so out of the normal behavior of human beings. The background to this parable is the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees against Jesus (Lk 15:2). They considered themselves to be perfect and despised others, accusing them of being sinners. Jesus says: “I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance”. In another place he says: “Tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you!” (Mt 21:31) According to Jesus, God is happier with the repentance of one sinner than with ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes. God is happier with the repentance of one atheist who never goes to church than with ninety-nine who consider themselves practicing and faithful Catholics and who despise atheists and prostitutes. This different image of God that Jesus presents to the doctors, Pharisees and all of us is quite disturbing!
Luke 15:8-10: In the second parable, the woman looks for the lost coin.
This parable is different. The short story of the lost coin alludes to the normal behavior of poor women who do not have much money. The woman in the parable has only ten silver coins. In those days, a drachma was worth a day’s labor. For poor women, ten drachmas was a lot of money! That is why, if they lost one coin, they would look for it and sweep the whole house till they found it. When they did find it, they would be immensely happy. The woman in the parable talks to her neighbors: “Rejoice with me! I have found the drachma I had lost!” Poor people who were listening to the story would have said: “That’s right! That’s what we do at home! When we find the lost coin our joy is great!” Well, as comprehensible as the great as the joy of poor women is when they find the lost coin, much greater is God’s joy over one sinner who repents!
Luke 15:11-32: In the 3rd parable, the father tries to meet again his two lost sons.
This parable is well known. It reminds us of things that happen in life as well as of other things that do not happen. The traditional title is “The Prodigal Son”. In fact, the parable does not speak only of the younger son, but describes the attitude of both sons, emphasizing the father’s effort to recover his two lost sons. The fact that Luke places this parable in the central chapter of his Gospel, tells us how important it is for the interpretation of the whole message contained in Luke’s Gospel.
Luke 15:11-13: The younger son’s decision.
A man had two sons. The younger son asks for his share of the inheritance. The father shares everything between them. Both the older son and the younger son receive their share. Inheriting something is no personal merit. It is a free gift. God’s bequest is shared as gifts with all human beings, Jews and pagans, Christians and non-Christians. All have some share in the Father’s bequest. Not all look after their share in the same way. Thus, the younger son goes off a long way and squanders his share by living a dissipated life and forgetting his father. There is no mention yet of the older son who also received his share. Later, we shall know that he goes on staying at home, carrying on his life as usual and working in the fields. In Luke’s time, the older son represented the communities that came from Judaism; the younger son represented communities that came from paganism. Today, who is the younger and who the older son? Or may be both exist in each one of us?
Luke 15:14-19: The frustration of the younger son and the decision to go back to the father’s house.
The need for food causes the younger son to lose his freedom and become a slave, looking after pigs. He is treated even worse than the pigs. This was this situation of millions of slaves in the Roman Empire in Luke’s day. This situation reminds the younger son of his father’s house: “How many of my father’s hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger!” He sees his life for what it is and decides to go home. He even prepares his speech to his father: “I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men!” A hired hand does what he is told, follows the law of servitude. The younger son wanted to follow the law, as the Pharisees and scribes wished to do in Jesus’ time (Lk 15:1). This is what the Pharisee missionaries imposed on the pagans they converted to the God of Abraham (Mt 23:15). In Luke’s time, Christians who came from Judaism wanted Christians who were converted from paganism to submit to the yoke of the law (Acts 15:1ff).
Luke 15:20-24: The father’s joy at seeing the younger son.
The parable says that the younger son was still a long way off from the house, but the father saw him, ran to him and kissed him tenderly. Jesus gives the impression that the father had been waiting all the time at the window, looking at the road, trying to see whether his son would appear on the road! To our way of feeling and thinking, the father’s joy seems to be overdone. He will not let his son finish his prepared speech. He does not listen! The father does not want his son to become a slave. He wants him to be a son! This is the great Good News that Jesus brings! A new robe, new sandals, a ring for his finger, a lamb, a feast! In this great joy at the meeting, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the father’s great sorrow at the loss of his son. God was very sad and now people begin to be aware of this when they see the father’s great joy at seeing his son once more! This joy is shared with all at the feast that the father orders to prepare.
Luke 15:25-28b: The older son’s reaction.
The older son comes back from work in the fields and sees that there is a feast in the house. He does not go in. He wants to know what is going on. When he is informed of the reason for the feast, he feels very angry and will not go in. Closed in on himself, he only thinks of his rights. He does not approve of the feast and cannot understand his hather’s joy. This implies that he did not know his father well, even though they lived in the same house. Had he known his father, he would have been aware of the father’s great sorrow at the loss of the younger son and he would have understood his joy at his return. Anyone who is too concerned with observing the law of God runs the risk of forgetting God himself! The younger son, even though he was away from home, seems to know his father better than the older son who lived with him in the same house! Thus the younger son has the courage to go back to the father’s house, while the older son no longer wants to go into his father’s house! The older son does not want to be a brother, is not aware that without him, the father will lose his joy because he, too, is his son as is the younger son!
Luke 15:28a-30: The father’s attitude towards his older son, and the older son’s reply.
The father goes out of the house and begs his older son to go in. The son replies, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening!" The older son glories in his observance: “I have never once disobeyed your orders!” He too wants a feast and joy, but only with his friends. Not with his brother, not with his father. He does not mention his brother as such, he does not call him brother, but “this your son”, as if he were no longer his brother. It is he, the older brother, who speaks of prostitutes. It is his malice that interprets thus the life of his younger brother. How often does the older brother misinterpret his younger brother’s life! How often do Catholics misinterpret the life of others! The father’s attitude is different. He goes out of the house for both sons. He welcomes the younger brother, but does not want to lose the older brother. Both are part of the family. The one must not exclude the other!
Luke 15:31-32: The father’s final reply
Just as the father pays no attention to the arguments presented by the younger son, so also he pays no attention to the older son’s arguments and says to him, "My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found!" Could it be that the older son was really aware of being always with the father and to find in his presence the cause of rejoicing? The father’s expression, “All I have is yours,” also includes the younger son who has come back! The older son has no right to make distinctions. If he wishes to be his father’s son, then he will have to accept him as he is not as he would like the father to be! The parable does not give us the older son’s final answer. This concerns us, because we are all older brothers!
c) Further information:
The two economies: the Father’s House and the Master’s House
This parable is known as that of the prodigal son, and this implies the economic side of things. Prodigal means someone who spends freely, even though this is a secondary detail in the parable. Really, the main point of the text is found in the fact that the follower of Jesus will one day have to make a choice: the choice between the Father’s House or the system of sharing the master’s house or the system of accumulation.
The parable begins with a young man who asks the father to give him his share of the inheritance because he wants to leave home (Lk 15:12). To leave the father’s house requires that the person have the one thing the world readily accepts: money. Without money the young man could not face the world. But the young man was not mature enough to administer the money and goes on a life of debauchery (Lk 15:13). To make things worse, when he had spent all his money, he goes through difficult economic times, which, in biblical language, are always described by the word “hunger”. In the biblical world, famine exists when the economic structure has collapsed. So also the young man begins to be in need (Lk 15:14).
Difficulties faced generate maturity. The young man sees that he still needs money to survive in this world. So, for the first time in his life, he seeks employment (Lk 15:15). Thus he goes to the Master’s House who sends him to look after pigs. He is very hungry, his wages are not sufficient and he tries to satisfy his hunger by eating the food given to the pigs (Lk 15:16). Meanwhile, in the master’s house things are not so simple: the pigs’ food is for the pigs. The worker must eat from the wages he gets for his service. Thus the master’s concern is not his worker’s hunger but to fatten the pigs. The young man discovers that in the master’s house food is denied, not shared, not even the food given to the pigs. Each for himself!
From his experience in the master’s house, the young man begins to compare his present situation with that in his father’s house. In his father’s house the workers are not hungry because the bread is shared with all the workers. In the father’s house no one remains without food, not even the workers! The young man then decides to go back to his father’s house. Now he is sufficiently mature to know that he cannot be considered as son, so he asks his father for employment. In the father’s house the workers are not hungry because the bread is shared.
There are those who think that the son goes back because he is hungry. If so, his return would be opportunism. It is not this, but a choice for a particular kind of house. In the master’s house, nothing is shared, not even the pigs’ food. In the father’s house, no one is hungry because the mission of the father’s house is to “fill the hungry with good things” (Lk 1:53). Sharing is the thing that keeps hunger away in the father’s house. But the young man discovers this only because he is hungry in the master’s house. Comparing the two models, the young man makes his choice: he prefers to be a worker in the father’s house, a place of sharing, a place where no one goes hungry and all are satisfied. So he goes back to the father’s house asking to be one of the workers (Lk 15:17-20).
By putting this reflection at the heart of his Gospel, Luke is warning the Christian communities that are organizing themselves in the particular economic system of the Roman Empire. This system is symbolized in the parable by the master’s house, where pigs get more attention than workers, or, where investment is worth more than work. In the father’s house, or in the house of Christians, this system cannot rule. Christians must concentrate their lives on sharing their goods. The sharing of goods means breaking with the imperial system of domination. It means breaking with the master’s house. In the Acts of the Apostles we see that one of the beautiful characteristics of the Christian community lies in the sharing of goods (Acts 2:44-45; 3:6; 4:32-37).
Luke wants to remind us that the greatest sign of the Kingdom is the common table in the Father’s House, where there is room for all and where the bread is shared with all. To live in the Father’s House means to share everything at the common table of the community. No one may be excluded from this table. We are all called to share. As we are constantly reminded in our celebrations: no one is so poor that he or she cannot share something. And no one is so rich that he or she may not have something to receive. The common table is built on sharing by all. Thus the feast in the Father’s House will be eternal.
The three parables have something in common: joy and the feast. Anyone who experiences the free and surprising entrance of the love of God in his or her life will rejoice and will want to communicate this joy to others. God’s saving action is source of joy: “Rejoice with me!” (Lk 15:6.9) It is from this experience of God’s gratuity that the sense of feasting and joy is born (Lk 15:32). At the end of the parable, the father asks all to be joyful and to celebrate. The joy seems to be dampened by the older son who does not want to go in. He wants the right to celebrate only with his friends and does not want to celebrate with the other members of his human family. He represents those who consider themselves just and think that they do not need conversion.
6. Praying a Psalm
Psalm 63(62): Your love is more than life
God, You are my God, I pine for You;
my heart thirsts for You, my body longs for You,
as a land parched, dreary and waterless.
Thus I have gazed on You in the sanctuary,
seeing Your power and Your glory.
Better Your faithful love than life itself;
my lips will praise You.
Thus I will bless You all my life,
in Your name lift up my hands.
All my longings fulfilled as with fat and rich foods,
a song of joy on my lips and praise in my mouth.
On my bed when I think of You,
I muse on You in the watches of the night,
for You have always been my help;
in the shadow of Your wings I rejoice;
my heart clings to You,
Your right hand supports me.
May those who are hounding me to death
go down to the depths of the earth,
given over to the blade of the sword,
and left as food for jackals.
Then the king shall rejoice in God,
all who swear by him shall gain recognition,
for the mouths of liars shall be silenced.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.