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Father Muench Says...

The lost sheep and prodigal son

Sept. 21, 2022

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Recently, as you may remember, the Gospel reading for a Sunday Mass was St. Luke’s remembrance of Jesus telling his parables of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the Prodigal Son. Personally, these are my favorites of Jesus’ parables. Today I would like to remember again with you some things about these wonderful parables.

I would like to start by reminding you that these are parables – stories Jesus told. This did not really happen. Each parable was a clever story that Jesus used to teach a lesson. In this case, the Pharisees and scribes were criticizing Jesus. They complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So, Jesus decides to tell these parables in order to teach his message. First, the story of the Lost Sheep. Jesus teaches the Pharisees, scribes and all of us that God is a rather unique shepherd. He is willing to leave the ninety-nine sheep and go searching for that one lost sheep. Personally, I remember a time when I did not care for this parable. I wondered why God would leave us righteous ones and go searching for that one lost sheep. However, in time I began to realize that too many times I was the lost sheep. I became grateful that my Good Shepherd would never give up searching for me, the lost sheep, and lead me back in love and forgiveness. In addition, this was an important story that I now often tell some of the lost sheep that I have gotten to know as a pastor.

At the same time in this Gospel reading, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. You see, I have often been that prodigal son. You know Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. A man has two sons. The younger son breaks his father’s heart. He asks his father for his inheritance now while he is young. In Jesus’ story, this younger son promptly goes through his inheritance, and he ends up on difficult times with no money. So, the story tells us, he decides to return to his father and home to ask to be a hired worker.

Now here is where Jesus’ story takes an interesting turn. In Jesus’ story, the father sees the kid coming down the road heading home, and the father does not wait for the son to get there and explain his intentions. The father runs down the road to meet his son and celebrates his return home.

I don’t know about you, but I suspect if I were telling the story, it would be rather different. I would imagine the father being annoyed. He would probably demand the prodigal to begin with a confession and a plea for help. In this case, the father would want the kid to suffer.

But we know that in Jesus’ story, the father is Jesus’ image of God – the loving, compassionate, forgiving God. Jesus tells us in the story that God continues to welcome us when we are the repentant prodigal coming to seek forgiveness. Our God is that Good Shepherd, that compassionate, welcoming father, who welcomes us like the prodigal was welcomes in Jesus’ story.

You will remember that Jesus tells us about the older son in the story: He becomes angry when he learns that his father welcomed the prodigal with a celebration. I know that today there are some who think that the father is much too easy on the prodigal. In his story, Jesus demonstrates for us that God, our Father, is compassionate and forgiving.

The Lord Jesus tells us with his parables that our God is loving and forgiving. His message to today’s prodigals is the same as he dramatizes in these parables for those who return to the Lord seeking forgiveness and peace today. God reaches out rejoicing when we return seeking God’s forgiveness: “this son of mine was dead and has come to life again, he was lost and has been found.”

The message of our Church is just like Jesus describes in his parable: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

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