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User's Guide to Sept. 15
BY Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Sept. 15 (Year C, Cycle I) is the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32 or 15:1-10
We have bought many religious books over the years. Several of them have been extremely useful to the Sunday Guide because they contain information that simply isn’t readily available online. One example is an old edition of The Jerome Biblical Commentary.
The section on the 15th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, today’s Gospel reading, includes some fascinating facts. Here are a few of them and how they apply to our lives.
This chapter in Luke is called "The Gospel Within the Gospel" because, in recounting the Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son, it vividly tells the story of God’s mercy and our thanksgiving.
First is the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The Jerome Biblical Commentary says that when a sheep gets separated from its flock and lost, the sheep will lie down, helpless. The shepherd can’t call it; he has to look for it. And when he finds it, he has to carry the sheep back — he can’t make it follow him.
This is a fascinating detail that enlightens the metaphor Christ is making. When we are separated from the flock and lost, we are utterly helpless. All of our courage and strength come from the flock, led by our divine Shepherd. On our own, we aren’t just "doing our own thing" — we are helpless and alone, powerless at the mercy of the wilds. When Christ calls us back, he doesn’t just call us individually to follow him. Like the old poem about the footprints in the sand, he has to literally carry us back home.
Second is the Parable of the Lost Coin. Details in the story suggest that this is a poor woman. The commentary says that the house she lives in would most likely have been a narrow, one-room structure, with no windows. In order to light the house and search for her coin, she would have had to open the door, light a lantern and search not just by sight, but by feel — she sweeps the house, hoping to hear the coin against the floor. In this story and the story about the lost sheep, says the commentary, Luke adds the detail that the finder calls all of the neighbors together to celebrate the end of the search.
What can we learn from all that? If our soul is like a coin, then it has great intrinsic value that makes it desirable in and of itself. God sees us that way. Each of us has unique value in his eyes — value worth making a great, arduous effort to find. And he celebrates when each of us is found.
Third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Much has been written about this rich parable. We will share just one fact from the book that we hadn’t heard before: The commentary says that, in Jesus’ day, a father could abdicate and share his property before his death.
We have come across considerations of what it meant for the youngest son to demand his share of the inheritance before his father had died: It was presumptuous and premature. But it is interesting to think about it from the father’s perspective. In "abdicating" his share of his property, he is doing what God does with us: Rather than rule his world with an iron fist, he gives us free reign to use what is his. We can use that freedom to do his will or to oppose his will — but the decision is ours.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.