Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4; 12-13, 17, 19; Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32
On September 2, 2013 at the age of 64, Diana Nyad completed a roughly 110 - mile swim from Cuba to Florida. Fighting off jellyfish and chilly waters, not to mention the danger of getting attacked by fierce sharks, Diana swam for more than 48 hours to reach her goal, which she had previously attempted four times and failed. She is now the first person to officially complete the swim without the help of a shark cage.
For me, this is a tremendous physical feat and a display of relentless will power. She definitely went to great lengths to achieve her dream. Interestingly, the Scriptural readings for this Sunday speak similarly about the determination of God, who goes to great lengths to show mercy and to find even one lost individual.
In the first reading from Exodus, the Israelites had just been liberated from Pharaoh's wrath and enslavement. They barely left the land of Egypt, and yet they immediately swerved away from the right path by creating a molten calf and worshiping it. God felt betrayed and became very disappointed with their infidelity. But through Moses' entreaty, God relented from punishing them and gave them another chance so that they might reach the promised land. God's mercy and goodness is indeed overwhelming!
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells three well-known "parables of the lost" found in chapter 15 of Luke's Gospel. These parables give a shocking glimpse of the character of God who would go to great lengths to find what was lost. The first two parables are constructed in a symmetrical style. The first parable is about a man who abandons the ninety-nine sheep to look for one lost sheep. After much wandering in the fields and valleys, he celebrates with his friends and neighbors because he has found his lost sheep.
The second parable focuses on a woman who feverishly searches for a lost coin in a dark and dusty Judean house. After sweeping everywhere and literally turning the house upside-down, she rejoices with her friends and neighbors for she too has found the precious missing coin.
The third parable shifts our attention to the great love of the prodigal son's father. The father's attitude is uncharacteristic of what one would expect from a man living in an honor/shame culture of the Mediterranean or Palestinian context. Putting his dignity aside, the father ran towards the prodigal son to welcome him home with an affectionate embrace and kisses even before the son was able to utter a word of remorse. The father's unconditional love and spontaneous joy stand in sharp contrast to the obstinate and pitiless older brother who could not even bring himself to address him as "brother" but rather referred to him as "this son of yours!"
Through these three shocking parables, Jesus challenged those who criticized him for associating with sinners and outcasts to change their hard-hearted attitude. Just as God and Jesus love each and everyone individually and uniquely, so we too must go to great measures to seek and find even one lost individual.
We all have lost "sheep" in our lives. It might be a sibling, a friend, or a student. These lost ones might consume our attention and drain all our energy. They cause us frustration for they might appear to be hopelessly lost. The Scripture readings today, however, teach us to be as magnanimous as God is in showing mercy and goodness. May we be willing to go to great lengths to restore them to wholeness and guide them to the shore of their destination.
vanThanh Nguyen, SVD
Associate Professor of New Testament Studies
© Copyright 2013 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved.