24th Sunday C
Sunday 11th September 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Lk 15: 1-32
The tax collectors and sinners were gathering round Jesus to listen to him. The religious and civil leaders complained, ‘This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.’ So Jesus told them this parable.
‘What man among you, owning a hundred sheep, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go looking for a lost one and keep searching till he found it? And when he found it, wouldn’t he lift it on his shoulders and return rejoicing. When he got back home, he would call in all his friends and neighbours to come, saying, “Let’s celebrate. The sheep that was lost has been found.” I tell you so seriously, there is more joy like that in heaven over one repentant sinner than there is over ninety-nine just people who have no need of conversion.
‘What woman among you having lost one of her ten silver coins wouldn’t light the lamp, sweep out the house and search and search until she found that coin? And when she found it, wouldn’t she call in her friends and neighbours saying, “Celebrate with me, for I have found the coin I had lost.” Likewise, I’m telling you there is such joy amongst the angels in heaven when a sinner repents.
‘There was a certain man who had two sons. Well, one of these sons – the younger – said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate – what will come to me when you die.” So the father divided up his livelihood. Then not too many days afterward, the son gathered up his share and took off to a distant country. There he threw away his share of the estate by living sumptuously. By the time he had gone through the lot, the country went into famine, extreme famine, and he was destitute. So desperate was he that he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who then sent him out into the fields to look after the pigs! And how he yearned to stuff himself with the husks the pigs were eating, but no-one offered him even a little. Finally he came to his senses, “How many of my father’s servants have more than enough bread and here am I starving. I will arise, go to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not even worthy to be called your son. Treat me like a hired servant.’” So he arose and returned to his father.
‘From a long way off, the father saw him coming and his heart leapt in compassion. Running, he came up and wept on the neck of his son and then he kissed him tenderly. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am not even worthy to be called your son.” But the father was ordering the servants, “Bring out the best robe, put it on him, yes, put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring in the grain-fed calf, kill it. We are going to feast and celebrate! For this, my son was dead and has come to life. He was lost and now he is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘The older son had been out in the fields and as he drew near to the house he heard the music and dancing and asked one of the servants what was going on. The servant said, “Your brother is here. Your father has had the grain-fed calf killed as he has returned safe and sound.” And the older son was indignant and refused to go in. So his father came out to him to comfort, entreat and plead with him. But he answered his father, “Look, all these years I’ve slaved for you and never crossed a single one of your orders and have you given me so much as a kid to celebrate with my friends? No. But when this son of yours comes home, having chewed up your living with prostitutes, you kill the grain-fed calf!” And the father replied, “Son, son, you are with me always and all that I have is yours. It was only right that we should celebrate. Your brother was dead – he is now alive. He was lost and now is found.”’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 50: 3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
In your graciousness, O God, show your mercy to me.
In the abundance of your compassion, wipe away my sins.
Wash me utterly of my guilt,
cleanse me of my sin.
Create a clean heart in me, O God!
Renew my spirit in righteousness.
Do not fling me from the sight of your face.
Do not withdraw your spirit of holiness from me.
My Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall be filled with praise of you.
The sacrifice you desire is a crushed spirit,
broken and humble hearts you will not despise.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, you know me far better than I know myself. Show me the places in my heart that have become lost to you. Let me recognise when you come to heal me. As I feel you turning my heart back to you, may I in turn look and care for those who are lost.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The words that immediately precede this Gospel reading are, ‘Listen anyone who has ears.’ Then we have the dramatic contrast between the response of the sinners and the righteous in relation to the person of Jesus. Quite simply, the former wish to hear him and the latter do not. In Gospel language, the verb ‘to hear’ is closely correlated to conversion. Nothing in the lives of these reprobate people would led one to expect them to convert so enthusiastically while it is a conundrum as to why those who followed the Law so closely did not. So we look to the three parables that Jesus told in the face of the ongoing complaints of the religious leaders.
All three parables have the same structure. ‘Lost, found, celebration’. In the first two, Jesus begins with a question: ‘What man among you…?’, ‘What woman among you…?’ We have heard these parables so often we may fail to realise that Jesus’ hearers would have thought, ‘No shepherd would do that’. or ‘Is this woman an obsessive-compulsive nut?’ And on hearing of the father that ran out to the younger dissolute son to welcome him and then went out to plead with the angry older son, they would have been shocked to think that a patriarch would so demean himself. Quite simply, the behaviour Jesus is recommending goes against common sense and normal social mores in every society. God is not like us. Mercy comes to meet us, to transform and change us and make us good. We do not deserve it.
The overarching feeling that runs across all three parables is the obsessive care that God has for the lost and the intense relief that expresses itself in celebration when the lost is found, when the sinner converts. Conversion does not simply mean a bad person begins to lead a good life. Rather, it means that the lost one, being found, enters into a community of joy. Behaving morally, following the religious rules is a minor consequence of this transformation. The central thrust of Jesus’ message is that the lost have entered into the joy of God. That is our home.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
Another name for heaven could be ‘The Lost and Found Department’. Those who have experienced being found by God, after being lost, know the profound joy and celebration that brings. And having experienced it, they want to go and search for others to bring them into that joy. So all in our churches do that?…well, maybe not. So, we in the churches, we, the good people writing this material, reading this material, maybe even preaching on it, have to ask ourselves where we have lost the plot, lost our bearings, become lost. This is not such a bad thing, oh no, indeed. Because we know that is where we met the God who loves to find the lost and loves to celebrate afterwards.
Where we are or have been lost is something intensely personal. It may well have been in a lifestyle of dissolute behaviour typified by the younger son in the parable. But, more likely in my experience amongst good, fine people, our lostness is like that of the older son. It is interesting to hear good churched people defending the anger of the older son. (Yes, and I, too, know how he feels.) But that older son is lost. He is tied up by his slavery to good deeds and weighted down by anger. He sees his father, and probably God as well, as someone to be appeased. He is lost in his twisted take on reality. The father has to come looking for him, to try pleading and persuading to get him to come in. The father didn’t have to do that with the younger son. Life itself gave him the tough serves that made him see reality aright. But the older son has to have his heart and mind persuaded to come in and celebrate.
And with the word ‘celebrate’ we see the crux of the matter. We are made for joy and, leaving aside time of deep grief, we should be able to enter into the joy of God and the joy of another. If we cannot, we are lost. But do not despair! As certain as the rising of the sun, God is looking for us. So where have you experienced your lostness?
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
God is always looking for us in the circumstances of our lives, so how come we don’t experience this more often? Maybe it is because of our reaction to what happens when God comes near to us. We can experience being ‘found’ or ‘found out’. When we are found out, we feel shame, guilt, embarrassment at having been caught in sin or inadequacy. But when we are found, we experience relief that there is an end to the mess we have been making of our lives, hope that we can change for the better and joy that God is coming in and taking direction of us. If we focus on being found out, we are likely to run away even more and indulge in defensive behaviour that denies the parlous state we are in. If we accept we have been found, our eyes are opened gradually to see how deeply we have messed up – not as a means to humiliate us, but rather so that we can see how immense God’s grace is towards us and what creative and life-giving things God can do with our mess.
How do we know where we are lost? Consider where we are floundering – as individuals, as a community, as a Church. Now, do you want to be found or found out?
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
The Lost Sheep.
– John Everett Millais’ The Lost Sheep (Click red text)
The Lost Drachma.
– Domenico Fetti’s Parable of the Lost Drachma (click red text)
– Godfried Schaclken’s Parable of the Lost Silver Coin (Click red text)
James Tissot’s The Lost Drachma (Click red text)
The Lost Son.
– Frans Pourbus the Elder’s The Prodigal Son amongst the Courtesans (Click red text)
– James Tissot’s The Prodigal Son (Click red text)
– Chirico,Giorgio’s The Prodigal Son shows the prodigal son’s alienation from self. (Click red text)
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on the people in your life who you feel have lost their way. What is your attitude towards them? Do you look out for them and welcome them when you have the opportunity?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Where do you feel lost in your life? Take time to ponder how it affects you: when it arises, how it influences your actions and feelings. When you have entered into your experience of ‘lostness’ turn and ask Jesus to come to you and carry you out of this lost place in yourself.
As you experience the release he offers, enter into his joy.
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy by Frederick Faber.
- Have Mercy, Lord, on Us by Lucien Deiss.
- All Who Hunger by Sylvia G. Dunstan and William Moore.
- We who once were Dead
- Yes, I shall arise by Lucien Deiss.
The Father of the Younger Son
(“While he was still far off his father saw him.” Luke 15:20)
Even after I gave up
keeping the tiger cub
in his cage, I picked it up,
forgetting snarls and claws
though I have bite marks,
scratches, to show love
comes late, scarred to wisdom.
Though you protect the cub
from larger cats, beware.
Young tigers have no shame.
The years I do not count
that I have passed the window in the front
searching the road for a sign
of that tiger no leash could check,
unmuzzled, free, and bleeding.
The helpless ache is ordinary,
the Thursday tedious, as I give a
passing glance through the window
at the dot on the far horizon
walking as many have walked before.
But the way he swings his arms,
turns his head, slightly
pigeon-toed. I am out the door,
down the stairs, down the road,
running, arms outstretched.
My embrace, my tears, my laughter
gather in all the years,
my kiss stops rehearsed
genealogies of sin, outlawing the self.
Of course, you are my son.
Be quick, steward, clothe him
as befits the son of a king,
the best robe from my chest,
goose the cook, load
the table with meats and wines.
Call in friends and foes,
blaze the night into day
torches, push the chairs
against the wall, pluck the harps,
strike the largest timbrel.
When the dead come back you drink.
When the lost are found you dance.
from Swift, Lord, You are Not
Published 2003 by St John’s University Press.
Used with kind permission.
Copyright: The Order of St Benedict