Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 

Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
1 Tm 1:12-17
Lk 15:1-32

Images of God and Self

Sunday’s gospel begins with the following words: “’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.’”

Hearing in Luke’s gospel is a sign of conversion so Jesus answers the Pharisees’ complaints with three parables. Hopefully they, and we, listen to the message that God rejoices over the repentance of one sinner more than the 99 who see themselves as righteous as the Pharisees do.

The first is the story of the shepherd who goes out to find the one lost sheep. There is great rejoicing when the sheep is found. The second is the story of a woman who seeks her lost coin and rejoices when it is found. In both stories we see the image of God seeking the lost sinners. Do we ever see the woman as an image of God just as we do the shepherd?

The third parable is well known – the story of the Prodigal Son. In this parable the son is lost due to his greed and love of a decadent lifestyle. Realizing he is a failure and is personally lost he chooses to return to his family and ask for forgiveness.

The father, the God image, has never given up hope for the return of his beloved son. Seeking him day after day he rejoices when he sees the son returning. He forgives the errant son and calls for a celebration. We need to believe that God seeks our love and companionship every day regardless of any failings we may have and rejoices when we try to live a better life each day.

There is one more part to the parable when we learn of the reaction of the older son who has been faithful to his father and his responsibilities. He refuses to enter the house and join in the celebration. He is like the Pharisees and scribes who picture themselves as faithful to the Law, who see themselves as righteous.

The father responds just as God does. God’s care and compassion extend to the righteous and sinner alike. When we are lost, God is always patient and awaits our return to a loving relationship with the One who never abandons us.  It is we who sometimes distance ourselves from God.

These parables lead us to ask ourselves who we really are. Are we like the shepherd and the woman who rejoice when other people are found again as they change their lifestyle for the good rather than selfish ways? Are we like the prodigal father who is compassionate and forgiving? Are we like the older son who is self-righteous believing he is better than his repenting brother? Are we like the Pharisees and scribes who believe they are more deserving of God’s love because they follow the rules?

All three of these parables deserve our time for prayer and reflection as we apply them to our own lives. Regardless of which image is closer to who we really are, God will always love us and call us to a deep, intimate relationship. 

Which person in the three parables are you most like?

How can you become a better person today than you were yesterday and will be tomorrow?

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