Sometimes less is more. Today’s gospel has three significant
parables: the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost, or Prodigal
Son. It is a long reading so I have opted to begin my preparations
focusing on the shorter version offered in the Lectionary, which
consists of the first two parables (15: 1-10). Perhaps next time I
come to this Sunday, I will focus on the Prodigal Son. On the other
hand, those who proclaim the gospel today might like to include all
three parables for the clear message of divine mercy that emerges.
The setting for Jesus’ telling the parables is dramatic and
fraught with tension. Luke tells us that the outsiders were, "all
drawing near to listen to Jesus." Not just a few, mind you, but ALL.
Those who would normally be excluded from a religious setting and
the company of the devout, are universally attracted to Jesus and
what he has to tell them about God. Those who object to Jesus’ whole
ministry complain, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
If Jesus had just collected food to give to them, that would have
been called charity. Then the Pharisees and scribes would have
called him a kind and good person. Similarly, charitable deeds can
be a way of keeping us detached from those we are trying to serve.
But Jesus hosted tax collectors and sinners, up close. They drew
near and he did not back away for fear of being contaminated by
them. This holy man would even sit and eat with those others
considered unholy people!
If we were to describe God, what words would we choose? When the
Bible describes God it uses "word pictures." Not a definition, not
some abstract theological language that only a few specialists might
understand – but word pictures that even a child can get. That’s
what Jesus did when he wanted to reveal to us who God is and what
God is like. He used word pictures, or stories – we call them
The stories we hear today were told to self-righteous religious
people who thought they knew about God and how God acts. They were
shocked that Jesus drew to himself "tax collectors," those disloyal
Jewish men who collected money for the Roman occupiers – and made a
tidy profit for themselves. And "sinners" – people who had bad
reputations, well known to their neighbors, were also drawn to him.
So, Jesus’ company shocked his critics, who considered themselves
God’s favorites. Why, Jesus even ate with these disreputable people!
The righteous who saw this were shocked. What kind of good man could
Jesus be if he were in such company? Remember what your parents
taught you, "You will be known by the company you keep"?
For these disgruntled people Jesus painted two pictures of God –
he likens God to a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to go searching for
just one until he finds it; and a woman who loses a coin and
searches her house thoroughly until she finds it.
Did you notice a word that appears in both stories… a little word
you might have missed, but it is packed with meaning? The word is
"until." Both the shepherd and the woman search "until" they find
what they were looking for. In the shepherd’s case the search seems
reckless to us. When Jesus asked which one of his listeners would
leave the 99 sheep in the desert to go looking for the lost one, you
can presume the response he got would be the one we would give… "No
prudent shepherd would do such a foolish thing." And when he asks
the question about the one lost coin, any of us who have lost
something, which wasn’t extremely precious, or "one-of-a-kind,"
might have responded to Jesus, "Well, after a good search, I would
have other things to do and would just give up looking."
But that is not the word picture Jesus is painting about God –
remember the little word, "until"? Jesus is describing no mere
glance around the local desert area to see if the lost sheep is
visible; no general search around the house to see if the coin is
nearby, under the table, or on the floor near the door. No, we’re
not talking human logic and ordinary practicalities; we’re talking
about a search that doesn’t end "until" the lost object is found. We
catch what Jesus is doing. His parable is painting a word picture of
God for us, of a God who refuses to give up on us. We are much too
valuable to God. God’s ways might seem foolish to us, too risky, too
generous to a fault. Jesus’ portrait might not be how we would paint
a picture of God; how we think God operates. Can we trust that Jesus
has firsthand knowledge of God and knows exactly how God is?
We may not be feeling lost, exactly. Though some of us might.
Perhaps we have done some things we feel have cut us off from God.
Perhaps we’re not sure how to work our way back. The stories Jesus
tells us about God are comforting for us today. They reassure us
that God has not turned away from us, but is out looking for us and
will not give up on us "until" we are back in God’s arms. The very
fact that we are gathered for worship today tells us that God has
already found us! That’s a reason to have a thankful heart at this
Eucharist, isn’t it?
How would we describe God? Well, Jesus has helped us. We have
help from the one who knows. God is foolish and takes risks on our
behalf. God is generous to a fault in forgiving us and welcomes us
home when we are found. And wants to have a feast to celebrate
because, though we were lost, we were priceless in God’s eyes and
when we are found God and God’s friends want to celebrate. Isn’t
that what Eucharist is for us? God’s friends, all the forgiven,
gathered together around this table to celebrate and feast from a
meal prepared by a welcoming and gracious God.
How will the world come to know that God is merciful and
compassionate? How will our children come to believe and experience
God’s free gift of love and kindness, unless they experience it in
our lives? We who have taken Jesus’ word pictures to heart, believe
them and try to put them into practice.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Lord relented in the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his
In this reading from Exodus the people of Israel, whom God had
liberated from slavery, have turned away to worship false gods. The
Lord becomes righteously angry but thanks to Moses’ mediation, the
wayward people are spared. The more I read this recounting, the more
I see nonviolence in action.
Thomas Merton OCSO was an American Trappist monk, writer,
theologian, mystic, poet, social activist, and scholar of
comparative religion. He was a deeply reflective person and his
words on violence/nonviolence are important to consider.
*"The real focus of American violence is not in esoteric
groups but in the very culture itself, its mass media, its extreme
individualism and competitiveness, its inflated myths of virility
and toughness, and its overwhelming preoccupation with the power of
nuclear, chemical, bacteriological, and psychological overkill. .
.Can we get to the root of the trouble? In my opinion, the best way
to do it would have been the classic way of religious humanism and
nonviolence exemplified by Gandhi." — Thomas Merton edited with an
introduction by Gordon C. Zahn (Boston, MA: McCall’s Publishing
Company, 1971), p. 230
*"Nonviolence seeks to "win" not by destroying or even by
humiliating the adversary, but by convincing him that there is a
higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs
and blood." — Thomas Merton, Faith and Violence, Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press: 1968, p 12
This week is Campaign Nonviolence Week (9/14-22) across the
nation and here in NC. The national CNV Movement states: "We stand
at a monumental crossroad in human history. At a time of permanent
war, growing poverty, threats to civil liberties, ecological
devastation, the enduring terror of nuclear weapons, and the scourge
of the structural violence of racism, sexism, homophobia, and
economic injustice, humanity faces the challenge and opportunity to
choose powerful and creative nonviolent alternatives, We can opt for
the devastating spiral of violence and injustice, or we can build
democratic, multiracial, and nonviolent societies where the dignity
of all is respected and the needs of all are met. True peace and
long-term human survival depend on this." This year, CNV NC is
focusing on racism and dismantling today’s Jim Crow, please join the
path of nonviolence.
Raleigh events posted on the national website:
Also, locally--on Facebook--"Campaign Nonviolence NC"
Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
what woman having ten coins and losing one
not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?"
Like the shepherd looking for the lost sheep, the woman expends
great energy searching for her lost coin. Also, like the shepherd,
when the lost object is found there is a joyful celebration with
friends and neighbors. This parable offers a refreshing female image
for our God who does not give up on us until we are found.
So we ask ourselves:
- Look around in your world:
- What person, or group of people, seem lost?
- What will you do about it?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an
inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form
it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Terrance Campbell #0064125 (On death row since 3/28/02)
- Wesley T. Smith #0765397 (5/29/02)
- Quintel Augustine #0612123 (6/21/02)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End
the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of
Faith Against the Death Penalty:
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