Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time • Year C

Peter M. Donohue, O.S.A.
President, Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
1 Tim 1:12-17
Luke 15:1-32

An important theme throughout Luke’s gospel is the forgiveness of sins. God is eager to welcome back any sinner who repents, and the three parables contained in chapter 15 all center on finding what was thought to be lost. The three episodes are well known to us, especially the parable of the prodigal son. The characters are familiar and in many ways we easily identify with the two brothers.

There are moments in our lives when we have desired the freedom the younger brother seeks. Each of us knows his eagerness to venture out on his own and the fear and desperation he encounters from choosing the wrong path. Like the young man, we have experienced shame and regret for our actions. We know his longing to be welcomed back into the lives of those we have hurt or abandoned. We have longed to be reunited with those who have loved us.

However, there are also those moments when we have wallowed in the jealousy and anger of the older of the brother. We have watched with disdain someone receiving the recognition we believe should be ours. We have judged ourselves better than another. Why don’t they acknowledge how good I am and recognize that he is such a phony? Each of us has been the two brothers. We have wanted forgiveness and we have refused to forgive.

Standing between these two extremes is the figure of the father. Now we can easily resign ourselves to the fact that the father is God. Certainly, this is Luke’s intent. If the good news is grounded on the theme of forgiveness, then the father is God.

He is the one who is always willing and eager to reconcile us with him and with others. Each in their own way has participated in sin and it is God who offers the invitation to return. However, maybe this parable is calling us to reflect on the ways we must be the father.

In the first reading, it is Moses who brokers the relationship between God and his people. As the younger brother, the Israelites want to satisfy their appetites for pleasure. They want to experience the joys of freedom. Naturally, God is frustrated with their actions. How much more can he give to them? What more evidence of his love do they need? Why do they not appreciate what has been done for them? Can’t they see the phoniness of the molten calf? God offers Moses an opportunity to leave this wayward people to their own desires and establish for him a new and greater nation of people.

Putting aside any personal gain or glory, Moses demonstrates his devotion to God and the people. He speaks on behalf of the people who belong to God and intercedes on their behalf. Like the father, the shepherd and the woman in Jesus’ parables, Moses ventures out to bring back what has been lost. It is more than just seeking or offering forgiveness. Moses and the brother’s father do not merely stand and wait for something to happen. They make it happen. They take the action needed for reconciliation.

To become an agent of forgiveness, we must be willing to sweep the house, search the field and move down the road to recover what has been lost.

In our celebration of the Eucharist we move forward to unite ourselves with Christ. We share in his life and in his power to embrace the sinner and eliminate the tensions that divide us. Yes, we know the prodigal son and the stubborn son; we have lived in the shadow of the brothers; can we live in spirit of the father?

Rembrandt – Return of the Prodigal Son, 1669. It is among the Dutch master’s final works.