Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Cycle C

Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

rembrandt return of prodigal.jpg

Luke 15. 1-32

What man among you would not leave his flock … ?

Surely, no 'reasonable' shepherd would ever dream of leaving his large flock of sheep in the gathering dusk while he searched for just one that is missing. Yet to God the search for one sinner is as important as that. A 'reasonable' woman might rejoice over finding her lost coin, but surely not to the extent of bringing in all the neighbours! Yet such is the joy of the Lord at the return of a single sinner. A brother, who argues by all that is 'reasonable', is surely right to feel aggrieved at the welcome given to his sibling who has forfeited all claim to any consideration. Yet the Father of them both cannot do enough to restore his erring but now repentant son. The lesson is clear. God is ready, even longing to forgive us. No sin is beyond the reach of his mercy.

This lesson was directed originally at the Pharisees and scribes. They were very 'reasonable' people; they knew the Law and all its derivatives, and observed them all faithfully. They worked hard at being ‘good’, enough, they believed, to deserve God’s favour. But, while they were so convinced of their own self-made righteousness, they could see no hope at all for others, especially known sinners. As far as they were concerned, all who failed to keep the rules of their religion were to be written off. After all, it’s only ‘reasonable’ that there should be no favours in store for people who fail to obey the law.

Thankfully, God's love and mercy are quite beyond the realms of reason! The message of today’s Gospel is truly ‘good news’: God is always happy to forgive sinners. He welcomes them and embraces them. God reaches out to us not because we are good and deserving, but because that is how it is with God. We come before God empty-handed; we cannot earn his forgiveness or favour. It is given freely, lovingly, lavishly, as befits a prodigal father whose love defies all that is ‘reasonable’. In return, he longs for us to be able to reach out to others in the same way.