September 15, 2013
ORDINARY 24 (C)
This man welcomes sinners & eats with them. – Luke 15: 2
Today we have not one, but three parables – given as a response to the Pharisee’s complaint about Jesus’ choice of dining companions. Not only was Jesus inviting known sinners into His company, He didn’t even ask them to repent or make restitution for their deeds. Notice that the focus of each parable is on the shepherd, the woman & the father, not the lost sheep or the lost coin or the lost son.
The first parable emphasizes the effort of the shepherd. He would have to traverse craggy hillsides & deep ravines, over rocks & stones, searching dangerous caves & all the while being alert to predators. Finally, carrying a 50 or 60 pound sheep on one’s shoulders over such terrain is no small thing. The point of the story is the exhausting effort, the dedication, the passion of the shepherd for one lost sheep.
The lost coin parable is a variation of the first parable. Notice the great effort the woman expends on finding it in a poorly lit house with dirt floors. The last & most famous parable is that of the Prodigal Son. Imagine the anxiety of a father waiting for a son who never comes. When he finally does spot him returning home, he forgets his dignity & runs down the stony path to embrace his son out of breath &, like Jesus at the dinner table, does not even allow for any apology or repentance speech, but silences his son’s stammerings with kisses. All that matters is that the family is once again complete.
All of which suggests Francis Thompson’s memorable poem The Hound of Heaven. It depicts God’s obsession with recovering us from the degradation we have brought on ourselves. Using the hound as a metaphor for God, Thompson writes:
“I fled Him, down the nights & down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; & in the mist of tears I hid from Him, & under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; & shot, precipitated, adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, from those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase & unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, they beat – and a Voice beat more instant than the Feet – all things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
How many people waste their time trying to earn forgiveness & reconciliation. How can I get back with God? What steps must I take?
What these parables tell us is to simply abandon ourselves to God’s searching mercy. God is seeking us more than we are seeking Him. All we need say is “here I am as I am.” Not that He wants to leave us where we are – it will take time & patience for us to change. Still, surrendering our will to His after so much folly is the one thing needful.
These parables seem to be depicting God as being as anxious as the shepherd, the housekeeper, & the father that all should be just right & complete. They seem to imply that God is a nervous wreck until things have been made right. That is what makes these parables mind-blowing stories about God’s passion (one might even use the term ‘obsession’) for you & me. When you think of it, it is an overwhelming & humbling thought, & (one might add) a motive for surrender. AMEN!