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God’s longing and active pursuit

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Gospel Commentary LK 15:1-32

We are graced this Sunday to ponder three unique parables in Luke’s Gospel that bring into clear focus the longing God has for us to be close to him as well as his active pursuit of us. 

Recall that a parable is a handcrafted story told by Jesus to teach us important truths about God and ourselves. They give Jesus the opportunity to reveal certain truths with precision.

In the first parable, Jesus describes a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep who have not strayed in pursuit of one lost sheep. This was not a common practice for shepherds in Jesus’ day. In fact, it was an absurd shepherding tactic because the shepherd risks losing many more sheep from thieves and wild animals while he is searching for the one. Jesus shocks his followers and suggests that each and every one of us is so important to him that he would go to extreme measures to track down the lost and carry us back on his shoulders to the fold where he protects, nourishes and is personally present to us. 

The second story is equally absurd from a common sense standpoint. A woman loses a coin, commences an all-out search of the house until she finds it and proceeds to call her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her over the lost coin. She then spends more on her celebration with her friends and neighbors than the coin is worth. This suggests, from another angle, that Jesus is so full of joy when lost disciples are found that his celebration is above and beyond all expectations. The focus in this short parable is, again, on the intensity of the search and the largess of the joy.

Finally, Our Lord recounts the rather famous story of the prodigal son. The father is the absurd one in this story. First, he divides half of his estate and gives it to the young, immature son. What father would ever do that? Next, aware that the son has squandered his inheritance on dissolute living (a reality which, in that religious and cultural context, resulted in being formally banned from the family), the father glimpses his son from a distance as if he went looking for him at the edge of his property every day. Then, the father runs to his son, embraces him and kisses him. (Elder men never ran in that culture.) The father proceeds to restore the son to the family with fine robes and a ring and then throws a festive party. Again, we see the extraordinary longing for the return and the joy that knows no bounds.

These parables warm our hearts, invite us to ever deeper levels of repentance and fill us with gratitude. St. Paul speaks of his return with enormous gratitude in our second reading: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated … Indeed, the grace of Our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

We recently celebrated the memorial of a saint who imitated beautifully God’s longing and active pursuit. St. Monica, a woman of deep faith in Our Lord, greatly desired that her son know and love Jesus. It was her great mission in life. Her son, Augustine, ran from his mother’s Catholic faith. He was brilliant and traversed the world in search of truth, embracing some of the latest intellectual fads of the day. He fell for a while under the spell of the raging Manichean heresy. 

Monica spent her energies encouraging the true faith and pouring out her tears in prayer for the return of St. Augustine. She physically pursued him to Rome and Milan. Finally, with the assistance of St. Ambrose in Milan, Augustine converted to the Catholic faith. St. Monica died soon thereafter a very contented and grateful woman. 

Do you grasp the intensity of God’s desire to have you draw close to him? Are you committed to helping him pursue others who have wandered from the flock of Christ?

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019