Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A priest, A Rabbi, and a Minister...

Most of you probably are unaware that the gospel I just proclaimed could have been a lot shorter. You may wonder why it wasn’t, some asking with greater hostility than others. The church offers two forms for this particular gospel, a short form and a longer form. Up until the middle of Saturday morning, I was prepared to read the short form, which does not include the so-called story of the prodigal son, and preach about God’s forgiveness. My attitude was that we’ve already heard the story of the prodigal son a few months ago during Lent. I should read the shorter version to focus more attention on the two other parables. I mean, I know that I appreciate it when priests don’t do things that extend the liturgy too long. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I listen to a homily or reflection that seems to have about four or five different endings. By about the third, I’m tempted to stand up and say, “Okay! We get it! That’s enough!” So, if I figured that if I could get to the point a little quicker this week and sit down, we’d all be winners.

But then I read a darn commentary and it made me ponder the way this Sunday’s gospel connects the story of the prodigal son to the other two parables in a way that the Fourth Sunday of Lent doesn’t. You see, in the fourth Sunday of Lent, we simply hear the story of the Prodigal Son, or Forgiving Father as I like to say. But, this gospel attaches two stories onto the front of it, two stories that may shed more light on the last. You see, Jesus is setting up a pattern that he wants to highlight with this gospel, a pattern that we simply cannot hear without the introduction. In all three parables something is lost. In the first parable, the man lost a sheep. In the second, a woman lost a coin. In the third, a Father loses his Son, and a Son his family. In the first parable, the man searches for the sheep and finally finds it. So, too, the woman cleans her house and finds the missing coin. If she’s anything like me, she probably moved her sofa and found it underneath. And, even the Father gets his son back after he “comes to his senses.” In all three stories, the people rejoice and invite everyone else to rejoice.

But this is when there is a twist. This is when the gospel becomes similar to one of those jokes where a priest, minister, and rabbi that are abundant on the internet. Presumably, everyone celebrated with the man who found his lost sheep. And, even though it probably meant she spent more than she found, the woman had everyone at her “Lost Coin” party. But then there’s the poor Father who realizes not everyone is celebrating for his prodigal boy. His older Son is out sulking.

It’s not at all hard to understand. Someone who finds a lost animal just needs to be more careful with the animal next time. Don’t let him wander off. Put up a better fence. And someone who finds a lot coin should be more careful with their money. Buy a piggybank for goodness sake. But a lost son is a little trickier. What if his conversion is just a little too convenient? What if this son isn’t back to ask forgiveness from his Father but is, in truth, back to take the other half of his Father’s belongings and leave his Father dry? Are we being corrupted by the company we keep or helping them to come to their senses?

It’s hard to seek forgiveness but even harder to give it to others. But, both are integral aspects of our Catholic faith. We constantly pray the prayer, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” But do we practice it? It’s easy to give up on people, to believe they are a lost cause. But, we wouldn’t give up that easily on a lost pet, let alone lost livestock. And would you stop looking for a lost paycheck? Probably not. But we probably all know people who seem to have given up on religion for one reason or another. Maybe they’ve been hurt and need someone to reach out to them with the healing touch of the Father that reached out to both his prodigal Sons. Or, maybe they’ve given into the life of dissipation that the Prodigal Son did, believing it more important to go to the bars on Saturday night and sleep in on Sunday than coming to church. Or maybe they’re so focused on work that they believe church would just be a waste of time. Maybe they’ve been gone for so long, they don’t even know how to come back anymore. We can get to the point that we just give up on them. We can sit around waiting for God to do something about them or we can hear the voice of God calling us from judgment to action, from sitting back believing our lives are in so much more in order than theirs to being willing to help them put the church back in their lives. The choice is ours. Will we help everyone celebrate at this eucharistic banquet or will we be happy with those that show up?

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