This weekend's readings remind us that God is loving and forgiving. Our God is a God of new beginnings. In the first reading from the book of Exodus God agrees for Moses to remain faithful to the Sinai covenant, even though people have gone away from the Lord and worshiped the Golden Calf. Moses was gone to the top of the mountain for “forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:18). While he was on the top of the mountain receiving instruction from the Lord, people of Israel at the foot of the mountain grew impatient. They made a Golden Calf and worshiped it. It seems that the golden calf was intended as an image, not of another god, but of the Lord, whose strength was symbolized by the strength of a young bull. The Israelites, however, had been forbidden to represent the Lord under any visible form. We read in the Exodus 20:4&5, “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them.” In response to Israel’s infidelity, God declares to Moses that he will execute the course on Israel for their infidelity. But Moses pleads for people and asks God to remain faithful to the Sinai covenant even though the people have broken it. Moses uses three arguments: (1) they are God’s own people, redeemed with God’s great power (Exodus 5-15); (2) God’s reputation will suffer if they are destroyed; (3) the covenant with Abraham still stands (Genesis 22:15-17). Hearing his arguments, the Lord’s change of mind is a testimony to Israel’s belief in the power of intercessory prayer. God shows his mercy towards Israel.
The Gospel of Luke chapter 15 presents God’s limitless mercy and forgiveness. Today’s passage we see three lost and found stories. Through all three of them, Jesus shows us that his mission is to call sinners to repentance, for which there is more reason to rejoice than there is over those who have never strayed from the faith. Jesus repeats this message several times in the Gospels. We read in Matthew 9:13, “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” It was the occasion of the call of Matthew.
All three parables in today’s Gospel are about lost and found which brings great celebration of joy. In the first parable, the shepherd gathers his scattered sheep and looks for the lost one. Jesus, the good shepherd came to call his people together and to reconcile back into one-fold. Second, a woman loses a coin. She had ten but lost one of them. Each one is worth an entire day’s wage. She turns the house upside down in search of it. Third, the story of the prodigal son. I would like to call this story, the story of a prodigal Father who lavishly forgives his lost son.
This parable narrates the exile and homecoming of historical Israel. After King Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms, living like brothers’ side by side, northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdom (1 King 12). By the eighth century the Assyrians captured Israel where they worshiped idols. In Ezekiel 37:21-23, we read God welcomes home the exiled son by lavishly sharing mercy and forgiveness.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son came and asked for his share of property. It was unusual and even shameful for a son to ask for his inheritance before his father’s death. We read the guideline for the distribution of inheritance in the book of Sirach 33. Younger son collected everything and took a journey into a far country and lived lavishly. Jews considered pigs unclean animals (Leviticus 11:7), but in desperate need the prodigal son agreed to feed the swine. We read in the Gospel for today, “When he came to himself” return to the father. On the other hand, my father was waiting for him. He ran and embraced him. The action of the father recalls the mercy shown to Jacob in the book of Genesis 33:4. Father gave him a robe and a ring which is a symbol of honor and authority in the Bible, (Genesis 41:42). Then the father says, “My son was dead, and is alive again…” which shows the change of status from curse to blessing.
The parable of prodigal son narrates the continuing struggle of the spiritual life, where repentance and conversion are part of an ongoing process. God is always waiting for us to share with love and mercy.