TWENTY FOURTH SUNDAY C
Theme: You are invited to believe in a loving, patient, merciful, and forgiving God.
1. Invitation to Pray: Enthronement of the Bible
Pause for a few moments of silence and enter more deeply into the presence of God.
Sing the Bible Anthem: Take 0 Lord and Receive
2. Invitation To Reflect
As you have already used the Study aid of Fr A Kadavil the whole week and listened to the 3 readings, be attentive to a word, a phrase, a question, an image, or a feeling that emerges before coming here, now it is time to share aloud to the group your reflections and your insights.
Sunday Reflections #85 XXIV SUNDAY (SEP 12) EXOD 32: 7-14; I TIM 1: 12-17; LK 15: 1-32
Anecdote # 1: Prodigal son’s prodigal father: He was a rebel, a college drop-out, a carouser, and a partier. He smoked, he drank Johnnie-Walker, he was a brawler, and had more run-ins with the law than you would care to count. By his own admission, he was the quintessential prodigal son. But now he stands to succeed the most respected, admired, and perhaps famous American of the twentieth century, Billy Graham. His name is Franklin Graham. Today Franklin Graham not only has a tremendous, benevolent ministry called The Samaritan Purse, and meets needs all over the world, but he is now preaching the gospel just as his dad did, to thousands and thousands of people. He is where he is today because he had a father who made sure the door was always open for his prodigal son.
# 2: From the Den of Lions to the land of freedom: In his book, Den of Lions (Crown Publishers, Inc., New York: 1993), Terry Anderson chronicled his journey from terrorist captivity for 12 months to freedom. Anderson, the Chief Middle East Correspondent for the Associated Press, was kidnapped from a street of Moslem West Beirut on March 16, 1985. In his book he recollects how he left the Church when he was young and slowly moved toward agnosticism for several years, “losing his way for a while,” doing evil things as did the “Prodigal Son.” During his first few weeks of confinement, Anderson was deprived of food, slapped, punched, kicked, cursed at and spat upon. With his legs and arms chained to a metal cot, he felt that he was, as he said, “on the edge of madness, of losing control completely, of breaking down.” From the edge of madness he began to plead with his captors. His request for a Bible was granted and in that moment, he began the journey that would lead him back to God. By the time he had marked his fifth month in captivity, Anderson realized that it had been twenty-five years since he had admitted his weaknesses and failures through sacramental reconciliation. So when the opportunity to do so arose, he was grateful. The chance for reconciliation with God was given through Father Lawrence Jenco, a Catholic priest and fellow-hostage. As they sat together on the floor, Jenco’s warm smile and kindly manner enabled Anderson to ask God for forgiveness. “I have sinned,” he admitted, “in word and in thought, and in what I have done and what I have failed to do.” With his hand resting lightly on Anderson’s head, Father Jenco assured him, “In the name of a gentle loving God, you are forgiven.” Then he pulled the younger man’s head to his shoulder and hugged him. Both men were crying as one received the full flood of the other’s anger, guilt and remorse and returned only warmth, love and understanding. Although he would not be free to return home to the U.S. for another seven years, Anderson had already found his way home to God and the freedom of forgiveness. Secure in that experience, he also found the spiritual strength and stamina that enabled him to survive the remainder of his captivity. Today’s gospel passage describes how God rejoices at the return of his prodigal children, in the shepherd who found his lost sheep, the woman who found her lost silver coin and the father of the prodigal son who got back his lost son. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez)
Introduction: The central theme of today’s readings is the invitation to believe in a loving, patient, merciful, and forgiving God. Today’s readings remind us that God actively seeks out the lost, wants their repentance and rejoices when the lost are found. God is eager to be merciful toward us, not vengeful and punishing. He is always in search of His lost and straying children, as Jesus explains in the three parables of today’s gospel. Our God has always been a God of mercy and patience, a God who seeks out the lost, as shown in the experience of Israel in the desert (the first reading), and through the amazing mercy shown to Paul, the former persecutor of the Church (the second reading). Chapter 15 of Luke's Gospel has been called "the Gospel within the Gospel," because it is the distilled essence of the good news about the mercy of our forgiving Heavenly Father. The whole chapter is essentially one distinct parable, the “Parable of the Lost and Found,” with three illustrations: the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin and the story of the lost son. These parables are about finding something that has been lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son They remind us that we have a God who welcomes sinners and forgives their sins whenever they return to Him with genuine contrition and resolution. The Hebrew termforrepentance, teshubah, means a return to God by a person who has already experienced God’s “goodness and compassion” (Ps. 51).
The first reading (Exodus 32: 1-14): The rhythm of man’s sin and God’s forgiveness pervades the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. In today’s passage from Exodus, Moses is imploring God to have mercy on the sinful people who have abandoned Him and turned to idol-worship, reminding God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It concludes with a consoling passage: “So the Lord relented.” Some Bible scholars consider this incident of idol-worship as an anachronized event: an event which took place later in Israel’s history and was then incorporated into the book of Exodus. They say the apostasy of the golden calf actually took place during the tenth century B.C.E. during the reign of Jeroboam I the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jeroboam set up two golden calves in the sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel (1 Kings 12:28).
In the second reading ( I Tim 1: 12-17). Classified among the Pastoral Letters (along with 2 Timothy and Titus), 1 Timothy, say some Bible scholars, was probably written toward the end of the first or early in the second Christian century by a disciple of Paul who was familiar with his mentor’s teachings and concerns. In today’s passage, Paul tells Timothy that, although he had been the greatest of sinners, God showed great mercy towards him. Paul’s sin was self-righteousness: he had been a zealot ready to persecute anyone thought to be doctrinally unsound. It was Paul, then called Saul, who had held the coats of those who stoned St. Stephen. In his letter, Paul reminds young Bishop Timothy how God in his mercy changed Paul’s mind and pardoned him. “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Paul acknowledges the fact that that he had wandered from the truth and rejoices that God first found him, then commissioned him to preach the good news of God’s unconditional love, calling every prodigal home. Like John Newton, the eighteenth century C.E. composer of Amazing Grace, Paul declared his past openly. . . “I once was lost”. . . “I once was a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance” (v. 13). Calling himself, “the worst of sinners,” and, “an extreme case,” (vv. 15, 16), Paul invites us to marvel at the mercy of God, and to find hope and help for dealing with our own need for conversion.
Exegesis: (LK 15: 1-32) The parables of a loving and forgiving God: In the first two parables we are shown a God seeking sinners, and in the third we see a God forgiving and receiving sinners. As a group, the parables tell us about God's generosity in seeking and receiving the sinner and the joy of the sinner in being received by a forgiving and loving God. All three parables of Luke 15 end with a party or a celebration of the finding. Since the self-righteous Pharisees, who accused Jesus of befriending publicans and sinners, could not believe that God would be delighted at the conversion of sinners, Jesus told them the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd's joy on its discovery, the parable of the lost coin and the woman’s joy when she found it, and the parable of the lost and returned son and his Father’s joy. Besides presenting a God who is patiently waiting for the return of the sinners, ready to pardon them, these parables teach us God’s infinite love and mercy. These three parables defend Jesus' alliance with sinners and respond to the criticism by certain Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ frequent practice of eating with and welcoming tax-collectors and sinners and of his receptivity to the lost among God’s people.
The lost sheep: Shepherding in Judaea was a hard and dangerous task. Pasture was scarce, and thorny scrub jungles with wild animals and vast desert areas were common, posing a constant threat to the wandering sheep. But the shepherds were famous for their dedicated, sacrificial service, perpetual vigilance and readiness for action. Hence, the shepherd was the national symbol of divine providence and self-sacrificing love in Israel. Two or three shepherds might be personally responsible for the sheep owned by several families in a village. If any sheep was missing, one of the shepherds would go in search of it, sending the other shepherds home with the flock of sheep. The whole village would be waiting for the return of the shepherd with the lost sheep and would receive him with shouts of joy and of thanksgiving. That is the picture Jesus drew of God. God is as glad when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd is when a strayed sheep is brought home. Men may give up hope of reclaiming a sinner, but not so God. God loves those people who never stray from Him, but He expresses even greater joy when a lost sinner comes home.
The Lost Coin: The coin in question in this parable was a silver drachma. Since the houses were very dark, with one little circular window, and since the floor was made of beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rushes, it was practically impossible to find such a tiny coin. But the woman tried her best to get it back because it was worth more than a whole day's wage for a workingman in Palestine. If the coin was one of the ten silver coins attached by a silver chain to the traditional headdress of a married woman, it was as important to her as the wedding ring in our society. Thus, we can understand the woman’s joy when at last she saw the glint of the elusive coin. God, said Jesus, is like that. The joy of God, and of all the angels, when one sinner comes home, is like the joy of a woman who loses her most precious possession, with a value far beyond money, and then finds it again. We believe in the seeking love of God, because we see that love incarnate in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
The lost son: This has been called the greatest short story in the world. It speaks about the deep effects of sin, the self-destruction of hatred and the infinite mercy of God. This is a story of love, of conflict, of deep heartbreak, and of ecstatic joy. The scene opens on a well-to-do Jewish family. With the immaturity of a spoiled brat the younger son demanded impudently of his gracious father, "Give me the portion of goods that falls to me." Under Jewish law, when a father divided his property between two sons, the elder son had to receive two-thirds and the younger one-third (Deut.21:17). In Jesus' parable, the younger son sold out his share of the inheritance and then squandered the money in a faraway city. The land was sacred to the Jewish people because it was the Promised Land given to the Chosen People. Hence, each bit of land was considered holy and no Israelite could lawfully sell his property (Lev. 25:23, I Kg. 21). Ancient “social security” basically consisted in sons farming their father’s land and taking care of their parents until their death. Hence, the prodigal sold his parents’ social security.
The conversion, return, and confession: As he became bankrupt, the prodigal son ended up feeding pigs, a task that was forbidden to a Jew (Leviticus 11:7; 14:8). Having sunk to the depths of economic, spiritual and moral depravity, the prodigal finally “came to his senses” (v. 17). So he decided to return to his father, to ask his forgiveness and to receive the status of a hired servant. When he saw his son returning, the ever-watchful father ran to him and gave him a cordial welcome along with a new robe, a ring and new shoes. Symbolically, the robe stood for honor; the ring for authority (the signet ring gave a person the power of attorney) and the shoes for the son's place as a member of the family (slaves did not wear shoes). The father also threw a great feast killing the “fatted calf’ reserved for the Passover feast so that all might rejoice at the wanderer's return.
The “Prodigal Father” and the self-righteous elder brother: The parable illustrates the wonder of God’s love and unconditional forgiveness. God seeks out the sinner and forgives him unconditionally. Jesus recounts the story of the elder brother as his response to the accusation by the self-righteous Pharisees that he was the friend of sinners. The elder brother represents the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved. He reflects the Pharisees' attitude that obedience to Mosaic Law is a duty, not a loving service. Like the Pharisees, the elder brother lacks sympathy for his sibling and levels accusations at him. As a self-righteous person, he refuses to forgive. Thus, his grudge becomes a sin in itself, resulting in his exclusion from the banquet of his father’s love. That is what we all do when we sin. We exclude ourselves from the banquet of God’s love
The first line of the gospel alerts us to an important way we are to listen to the parables. Jesus is addressing the self-righteous Pharisees who were angry he was eating with sinners. The parables challenge the religious leaders who were obviously not behaving the way Jesus believed true shepherds of the people should behave. These Pharisees were furious that Jesus was offering forgiveness and welcoming sinners into his community without demanding that they make restitution, sacrifice, and commitment to the law "Who does Jesus think he is anyway? What makes him think he knows who God welcomes and does not welcome?" The Pharisees must have found Jesus' examples absurd. Who, in their right mind, would turn the house upside down to look for one coin, or go after one sheep and leave the others (especially when they believed the sheep was not worth saving in the first place)?
Very often the parable of the lost coin has been translated as a parable about the contrast between the rich shepherd and the poor woman. Biblical research has suggested another reality. The woman was not poor; by first century standards, she was well-off. She may have lost one drachma, a day's wage, but she had ten others—an unheard-of luxury. The two stories illustrate through a male and a female character the way God acts.
"How dare Jesus suggest that the Pharisees become like the notoriously ill-reputed shepherds and a woman—what an insult!" Yet, isn't that just like God—to come as a lowly one who offers life itself? The parable invites the Pharisees and listeners of all ages to expand their image of God, and to enter more fully into God's extraordinary generosity. God moves heaven and earth to welcome sinners. The parable invites all men and women to act like God—to go to any lengths in welcoming and loving all people.
Messages: 1) Challenge for self-evaluation: This can be for us a Sunday of self-reflection and assessment. If we have been in sin, God's mercy is seeking us, searching for our souls with a love that is wild beyond all imagining. God is ready to receive and welcome us back, no less than Jesus welcomed sinners in his time. Let us pray today that we will allow God’s love and forgiveness into our lives. Let us also ask God for the courage to extend this forgiveness to others who have offended us. As forgiven prodigals, we must be forgiving people. As we continue with this celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray also for God's divine mercy on those who have fallen away from grace. May their ears be opened so that they may hear that Jesus is welcoming them back home.
2) Let us confess our sins and regain peace and God’s friendship. The first condition for experiencing the joy and relief of having our sins forgiven is to see them as they are and give them up. We have to be humble enough to recognize that we need God’s forgiveness to be whole. At that very moment of sad and painful self-recognition, we will know how much our brothers and sisters need our compassion, and we will be more able to help them. Indeed, that will be a change in our attitude, arising out of our own parallel condition.
JOKE OF THE WEEK: 1) The most unhappy character: The pastor told the story of "The Prodigal Son" to a first grade class. To check on their understanding, he asked; "Who was the unhappy character in the story when the prodigal son returned?" An eager boy raised his hand and stated the simple truth. “The Fatted Calf".
2) The self righteous admirer. Bishop Sheen once told a story about a trip he made by plane, and how one of the attendants made a big fuss over him. "Do you want some more coffee, Your Excellency?" "Oh, my mother prays for you everyday." "I must write to her and tell her about seeing you." About that time a big Texan who had had a little too much to drink, started cursing, making passes at the attendant and creating a big ruckus. Finally, the attendant who had had enough, walked up to the Texan and said, "Sir, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to be quiet. Bishop Sheen, the famous televangelist is flying with us." "Bishop Fulton J. Sheen is flying with us?" the Texan asked with surprise. Then he stumbled back to where Bishop Sheen was sitting and said, "Bishop Sheen, I'm so glad to meet you. I just want you to know how much your sermons have helped me to live an ideal Christian life!"
3) Pastor for the dinner on the return of the prodigal son. Mr. & Mrs. Dennis invited their pastor for the dinner hosted in honor of the return of their son after long years of his wandering life. As Mrs. Dennis busied herself preparing food she asked her little daughter to set the table. When the pastor started the prayer before the meals, Mrs. Dennis noticed that her daughter forgot to place silverware for the pastor. Embarrassed at the oversight, Mrs. Dennis asked her little girl why she had not placed silverware for the pastor. “Because, Mom, I have heard Papa saying that our pastor eats like a horse!”
Additional anecdotes: # 1: Prodigal girl December’s return: Many years ago, comedian Chonda Pierce met a young woman named December. December’s father was a pastor. December got the message early on that pastor’s children are supposed to be perfect. December knew she would never be good enough for the people at church. So December began rebelling against her family’s and her church’s expectations. By her late teens, she was living on the streets. She spent her nights partying, sleeping with any man who caught her eye. Sometimes, she would slip into her parents’ church during the service, but she always left before anyone could talk to her. After she became pregnant, December decided to return to her parents. She expected shame and condemnation. Instead, December’s parents welcomed her back with open arms. As she says, “The bottom line is that I came back to my family and God because they love me with no strings attached. They forgave me. . . I thought I could do something to make them disown me, but I was wrong.” (Chonda Pierce, It’s Always Darkest Before the Fun Comes Up (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 1998), pp. 80-84).
# 2: Newsweek story of the return of the meth addict prodigal: In 1990, Michale Mohr’s son, Jeff, moved to Arizona to work as a computer technician. Michale, back in Portland, Oregon, looked forward to her son’s weekly calls. But after a few years in Arizona, Jeff’s phone calls began to taper off. When Michale’s letters to him were returned, she decided to investigate. Michale found out from Jeff’s friends that he had become addicted to crystal meth, a powerful drug. One day, Jeff had just walked away from his apartment. No one knew where he was. For the next three years, Michale Mohr made it her mission in life to find her son. She flew back and forth between Oregon and Arizona, canvassing Jeff’s old neighborhood and talking to his friends and associates. The police offered little help. Michale’s quest to find her drug‑addicted son led her into dangerous, run‑down neighborhoods. At one point, she even dressed as a homeless woman in order to relate to the street people she interviewed. Finally, after three years, Michale made contact with someone who knew Jeff. She remembers distinctly the day she found him. Jeff rode up on his bicycle. He had lost weight, his teeth were rotting, he was bruised from a recent beating. But he had ridden on his bicycle for ten miles in the sweltering Arizona heat to find her. They ran into each other’s arms. Jeff had been trying to fight his addiction, but he had been afraid to contact his mother, afraid of how his addiction might hurt her. You will be happy to know that Jeff Mohr moved back to Oregon, got a steady job, and joined Narcotics Anonymous. (“The Seamier Side of Life” by Michale Mohr, Newsweek, August 18, 1997, p. 14.)
# 3: Miraculous rescue of Jessica McClure: For two days in October of 1987, not just a community, not just a state, not just a nation, but the entire world was watching with bated breath the drama of an eighteen-month-old little girl named Jessica McClure who had fallen twenty-two feet through an eight-inch opening in an oil pipeline at a daycare center. For fifty-eight solid hours over two and a half days, drilling experts, highway construction equipment, pneumatic drills, special air vents, high pressure hydraulic drills, were expended in an unbelievable Herculean effort to rescue this one little girl. When she was finally pulled from that hole, an entire world cheered. Despite the size and diversity of the United States, the drama of Baby Jessica's being lost and found touched hearts nationwide. Every parent hugged his/her own child a little tighter. For just a moment in time, one lost little girl became lost to each of them. And when everyone's child, Baby Jessica, was found at last, an entire nation rejoiced. In today's gospel text Jesus has the audacity to suggest to his audience, especially those surly, grumbling Pharisees and scribes, that this is the kind of rejoicing that goes on in heaven every time a sinner repents.
# 4: God of justice or God of forgiveness: On February 3rd of 1998, the State of Texas executed Miss Karla Faye Tucker Brown for her part in two extremely brutal murders committed in 1983. Karla was the first woman executed by Texas since the 1860’s and she was a born-again Christian. She had a childhood full of abuse and neglect, a youth as a prodigal daughter immersed in a world of drugs and immorality leading her to a sensational, brutal crime earning society's ultimate punishment. In an attempt to steal a motor bike from the house of Jerry Lynn Dean, she and her two boy friends brutally murdered Jerry Dean Garrett and his girl friend Deborah Thornton with pickaxes in Jerry’s house at night. Karla was, to all appearances, a repentant murderer in the jail for 15 years. At the moment of her execution there were two groups of people outside the Texas state prison in Huntsville: a group protesting her execution, who were there praying for her, and a group demanding her execution, who were there cheering and jeering as she was hanged. The praying group was calling for love and mercy, and forgiveness and the cheering group was calling for justice. The parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us today that for God, love, compassion and forgiveness take precedence over blind justice.
# 5: Prodigal son in Johannesburg: In his novel, Cry the Beloved Country (1948), South African educator, author and reluctant politician, Alan Paton, told the story of a father and son in Johannesburg. The boy had strayed to what Winston Churchill had called “that alien land where standards and ideals are lost” (A Far Country). Desperate to find his lost son, the father searched the entire city, street by street. Relentlessly, tirelessly, he traveled from reform school to Shanty Town, to the jails, inquiring of everyone he met until, at last, he found his wandering boy and brought him home. Like the loving father featured in today’s gospel, he did not reproach his son but rejoiced in the fact of their reunion.
# 6: "Well, that's cute, Mom. What is it?" A divorced woman found herself struggling with an increasingly rebellious teenage daughter. It all came to a head late one night when the police called her to pick up her daughter who had been arrested for drunk driving. The two of them didn't speak on the way home or next day either, until at last the mother broke the tension by giving her daughter a small, gift-wrapped package. The girl opened it with an air of indifference and found inside a small rock. "Well, that's cute, Mom. What is it?" "Read the card, dear," the mother replied. As the girl did so, tears began to trickle down her cheeks, and she gave her mom a hug as the card fell to the floor. On the card her mother had written: "This rock is more than 200 million years old. That's how long it'll take before I give up on you." That's what Jesus is telling us about God in today’s readings: He never gives up on us. (Fr. Clarke)
#7: "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree." In 1973, Tony Orlando recorded the song, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree." It became the number one hit record for the year, became Tony Orlando's theme song and grew into an American anthem of hope and homecoming, reunion and renewal. We have used it (and its yellow ribbon symbol), to welcome home soldiers, POW's, hostages and lost children. The song was probably inspired by the following story. A young man is on a train. He seems deeply troubled -- nervous, anxious, afraid, fighting back the tears. An older man seated beside him senses that something is wrong and he asks the younger man if he is all right. The young man, needing to talk, blurts out his story: Three years before, after an argument with his father one evening, the young man had run away from home! He had chased back and forth across the country looking for freedom and happiness and, with every passing day, had become more miserable. Finally, it dawned on him that, more than anything, he wanted to go home. Home was where he wanted to be, but he didn't know how his parents felt about him now. He had written ahead that he would be passing by their back yard on the afternoon train on this day and if they forgave him, if they wanted to see him, if they wanted him to come home to tie a white rag on the crabapple tree in the back yard. If the white rag were there, he would get off the train and come home; if not, he would stay on the train and stay out of their lives forever. Just as the young man finished his story, the train began to slow down as it pulled into the town where his family lived. Tension was heavy, so much so that the young man couldn't bear to look. The older man said: "I'll watch for you. You put your head down and relax close your eyes. I'll watch for you." As they came to the old home place, the older man looked and then touched the young man excitedly on the shoulder and said: "Look, son, look! You can go home! You can go home! There's a white rag on every limb!" Isn't that a great story? The truth is: that powerful story is simply a modern re-telling of the greatest short story in history, namely, Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son. The story was probably inspired by the Parable of the prodigal son.
# 8: "But he nearly killed the prodigal son!" A teenager came to his pastor for advice: "I left home," said the boy, "and did something that will make my dad furious when he finds out. What should I do?" The pastor thought for a moment and replied, "Go home and confess your sin to your father, and he'll probably forgive you and treat you like the prodigal son." Sometime later the boy reported to his pastor, "Well, I told Dad what I did." "And did he kill the fatted calf for you?" asked the priest. "No," said the boy, "but he nearly killed the prodigal son!"
# 9: Rescue of nine miners: On Wednesday, July 24, 2002, nine Pennsylvania miners were trapped 240 feet underground. For three days Americans followed the drama hoping and praying for a miracle. Within twenty-four hours of the disaster, the rescuers successfully lowered an air pipe to where they believed the miners were. By banging on the pipe the miners signaled that they were alive. Only about a third of the way into the solid granite a 1500 pound drill bit broke. One miner later said, “We fought despair when the drilling stopped.” He found a pen and wrote a good-bye note to his family. Rescuers would not give up. Eventually they reached the miners and lifted each one to safety to the thundering applause of colleagues, reporters and family. Today’s gospel reminds us that the Church must recover its search and rescue mission, return to its apostolic roots, and start caring for lost people. That is our mission. As long as there is one, all heaven is concerned.
# 10: I once was lost, but now am found." "Amazing Grace" is always listed among the favorite hymns. It is an old one. It goes back to the 18th century. It was written by John Newton, who was on the sea from the time he was a little boy. When he was a young man, he became the captain of his own ship, a ship that brought African slaves to the colonies to work the plantations. Back in England, between voyages, he went to hear George Whitefield preach and was converted. He realized the evil of his occupation, left it, and became a priest in the Church of England and served the rest of his life as the rector of a little church in a town called Olney. He wrote a number of hymns which were printed in a collection called the "Olney Hymns," (a classic collection of hymns in the Church), and "Amazing Grace" was one of them. Even people who are not members of churches, and those who do not profess faith, find something about this hymn touching them. It is over two hundred years old. It is uncompromisingly Christian in its language. It is evangelical in its message, reflecting John Newton's experience of being found. "I once was lost, but now am found." Maybe that is the clue to its popularity, because it could be called the Christian understanding of our relationship with God. God has found us.
# 11: Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son: In 1986 Henri Nouwen, a Dutch theologian and writer, toured St. Petersburg, Russia, the former Leningrad. While there he visited the famous Hermitage where he saw, among other things, Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son. The painting was in a hallway and received the natural light of a nearby window. Nouwen stood for two hours, mesmerized by this remarkable painting. As he stood there the sun changed, and at every change of the light's angle he saw a different aspect of the painting revealed. He would later write: "There were as many paintings in the Prodigal Son as there were changes in the day." Just as Henri Nouwen saw a half dozen different facets to Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son, so, too, are there many different angles to the story itself. (LP)/10
3 Invitation to Group Sharing
- What does today's gospel have to teach me about "seeking out the lost"? (Focus on those close to you, family and friends, and think through how you might reach them. Give special attention to those who are in a time of need or hurting, and how the sharing of your faith experience might move them.) How can I share the good news with them?
- Name experiences in which you behaved like some of the Pharisees (self-righteous smugness) and when you behaved like the woman and the shepherd (unconditional love and compassion). What did I learn from the experience? In what way does this gospel invite me to concretely respond?
- What does the gospel mean for today's Church? How does this gospel speak to religious leaders—clergy, religious, and laity?
4. Invitation to Act
Determine a specific action (individual or group) that flows from your sharing. When choosing an individual action, determine what you will do and share it with the group. When choosing a group action, determine who will take responsibility for different aspects of the action. These should be your primary considerations. The following are secondary suggestions.
- Determine a particular person in need with whom you will share your faith story.
- Spend some time each day reading the Scriptures looking for exam-pies of how God reaches out to the lost. Each day write down an example from your life of how God has reached out to you when you were lost, or felt abandoned and rejected.
- Perhaps your group might consider choosing a few neighborhoods and go door-to-door to welcome folks to come to your parish.
5. Closing Invitation to Prayer
Song: "Amazing Grace," included in most hymnals
Give thanks to God (aloud or silently) for new insights, for desires awakened, for directions clarified, for the gift of one another's openness and sensitivity. Conclude with the following prayer:
God of the lost,
through the incarnation of your Son, you free human beings from the ravages of sin, and you pour out your abundant mercy on the lost and the broken.
Sinners find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
And you provide your people with an abundant harvest. Send workers into the world to seek out the lost and offer life to sinners.
Direct our efforts and purify our hearts,
as we go out seeking the lost sheep of this world.
May your Spirit empower us to become more effective ambassadors of your compassion.
We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord. Amen