Reflection for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Did you ever lose something so precious to you only to find it eventually after losing hope of getting it back? There are lots of amazing stories about lost but found items that could potentially fill several volumes of books.
Someone once narrated how his grandfather (a fisherman) found the wallet he lost twenty years ago in his fishnet while fishing at lake Attersee, Austria. The unbelievable part is that everything was intact as he left them, even money. Another says a professor ordered a used book from amazon, and when it was delivered, he discovered that it was the same book he lost many years ago, and it still had his name and signature.
The Readings of this Sunday seem to agree on the phenomenon of finding after an episode of losing, expressed as human disconnection due to sin and eventual reconnection to God after an act of divine forgiveness.
Lost to Sin: A Disconnection from the Source
The First Reading (Exodus 32:7-11,13-14) tells us about the estrangement of the people of Israel from God due to their idolatry. They chose to worship a molten calf and even acclaimed it as their “God” when Moses was up in the mountains to meet with God.
God was angry with the people and was about to wipe them all out and begin a new generational dispensation with Moses. Moses respectfully turned down the offer and appealed to God to forgive the people recalling the promises He (God) made to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob). The people were lost to sin, but God found them.
In the Second Reading (1Timothy1:12-17), St. Paul recalls his past estrangement as an arrogant blasphemer and persecutor of the Christian faith. He acknowledged that he acted in ignorance and was not shy to identify himself as a foremost sinner who received God’s mercy through grace supported by faith and love.
In the Gospel Reading (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord Jesus Christ gives a chain of parables on lost but found as a reaction to the judging attitude of the Pharisees and the Scribes over the tax collectors and sinners who were coming to listen to Jesus.
The first and second parables discussed a lost but found sheep and coin. However, the most profound was the narrative of the lost son, also known as the parable of the prodigal son. Unlike the two previous parables, the missing item was a human being, in fact, the second son of a wealthy father.
The narrative tells us about a young man who approached his father to give him a share of his inheritance. First, note that inheritance is shared after, not before, the death of the owner. Next, we did not see the father complain or ask why; he just allowed him to have his way. Here we can recall God’s gift of free will (Genesis 2:16).
After receiving his share of his father’s property, the second son travels to a distant or far country where he spends everything he has from his father. The country is called distant or far because it is a disconnection from the source. To be lost is to be disconnected from the primary source.
To make matters worse, the country went into extreme famine to the point that the young man had no option other than to hire himself for the lowly work of feeding pigs, not for the pay or food because he got neither. Maybe to get a kind of shelter or address.
Found by Forgiveness: A Reconnection to the Source
The high point of the narrative was when the estranged young man came to himself (senses). At that point, he felt the impact of the disconnection from his father. Here the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John (15:5) come alive: “cut off from me; you can do nothing.”
The now penitent young man immediately decided to return to the father to confess his failure and ask for reacceptance as a servant, not a son. He was still a long way from the house when his father saw him, ran to him, embraced and received him back as a son that was lost but found with an elaborate party.
Moving Back to the Father: Are You Lost?
If you ask if anyone is lost in the Church, nobody will accept being lost. We are always fine; in fact, from our childhood, we were taught how to say “fine, thank you” when someone asks us the conventional question: “how are you?”. But, while we may be physically fine, the truth is that most of us are lost and need to be found morally and spiritually.
From the story of the lost son, we understand that God makes room for a second chance no matter the extent and degree of our mess. We are all like the prodigal son with our dimensions of prodigality.
The good news is that God is always waiting for us to come to our senses. He needs us to make the first move to return to Him, and we shall see him running to find us with the arms of forgiveness embracing us. Recall that God says: Come now, let us settle the matter. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).
We may not end this reflection without learning from the character of God towards sinners. Already Jesus had asked us in the Lord’s prayer to forgive those who trespass against us as we ask God to forgive us. We cannot be the merciless children of a merciful Father. The Letter of St. James (2:13) makes it stricter when it says: “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment”.
God bless you.