Lectio Divina. Sunday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time.
Author: Order of Carmlites | Source: www.ocarm.org
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
Today’s Gospel gives us three parables to help us consider in depth our image of God. The image that a person has of God influences greatly his or her way of thinking and acting. For instance, the image of God as a severe judge frightens the person and renders that person too submissive and passive or rebellious and riotous. The image of God as patriarch or boss, was and still is used to legitimise relationships of power and dominion, in society and in the Church, in the family as well as in the community. In Jesus’ days, the idea that people had of God was of someone distant, severe, a judge who threatened with punishment. Jesus reveals a new image of God: God as Father, full of kindness for all and each one individually. This is what these thrLucas 15,1-32ee parables want to communicate to us.
As you read, try to pause on each detail and, above all, let the words penetrate and challenge you. Try to discover what they have in common and try to compare this with your image of God. Only then, try to analyse the details of each parable: attitudes, actions, words, place, atmosphere, etc.
c) A division of the text to assist with the reading:
Luke 15:1-3: The key to the meaning of the three parables
Luke 15:4-7: In the first parable, you are invited to find the lost sheep
Luke 15:8-10: In the second parable, the woman tries to find the lost coin
Luke 15:11-32: In the third parable, the father tries to find his lost son
Luke 15:11-13: The decision of the younger son
Luke 15:14-19: The frustration of the younger son and the will to go back to the Father’s house
Luke 15:20-24: The Father’s joy in finding his younger son again
Luke 15:25-28b:The older son’s reaction
Luke 15:28a-30: The Father’s attitude towards his older son and the son’s reply
Luke 15:31-32: The Father’s final reply
1 The tax collectors and sinners, however, were all crowding round to listen to him, 2 and the Pharisees and scribes complained saying, 'This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.' 3 So he told them this parable:
4 'Which one of you with a hundred sheep, if he lost one, would fail to leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the missing one till he found it? 5 And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders 6 and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, I have found my sheep that was lost." 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance.
8 'Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? 9 And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, I have found the drachma I lost." 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.'
11 Then he said, 'There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, "Father, let me have the share of the estate that will come to me." So the father divided the property between them. 13 A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery. 14 'When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch; 15 so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. 16 And he would willingly have filled himself with the husks the pigs were eating but no one would let him have them. 17 Then he came to his senses and said, "How many of my father's hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger! 18 I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; 19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men." 20 So he left the place and went back to his father. 'While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son." 22 But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we will celebrate by having a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found." And they began to celebrate. 25 'Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. 26 Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. 27 The servant told him, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the calf we had been fattening because he has got him back safe and sound." 28 He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out and began to urge him to come in; 29 but he retorted to his father, "All these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. 30 But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property -- he and his loose women -- you kill the calf we had been fattening." 31 'The father said, "My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. 32 But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found." '
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased or struck you most in the three parables? Why?
b) What is the main point of the parable of the lost sheep?
c) What is the main point of the parable of the lost coin?
d) What is the younger son’s attitude and what image does he have of his father?
e) What is the older son’s attitude and what image does he have of his father?
f) What is the father’s attitude towards each of his sons?
g) Do I identify with the younger or the older son? Why?
h) What do these three parables share in common?
i) Does our community reveal to others this love of God as Father that is full of kindness?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context then and now:
The 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel holds a central place in Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem. This journey begins in Luke 9:51 and ends in Luke 19:29. The 15th chapter is like the top of the hill from which we can see the journey already travelled and the rest of the journey to come. It is the chapter of God’s warm kindness and mercy, themes that are Luke’s main concern. The communities must be a revelation of the face of this God for humanity.
We have three parables here. Jesus’ parables have a precise purpose. These short stories taken from real life try to lead the listeners to reflect on their own life and discover there a particular aspect of God’s presence. In the parables there are two types of stories of life. Some stories are not normal and are not usual occurrences in daily life. For instance, the father’s goodness towards his younger son is not usual. Generally, fathers act much more severely towards children who behave like the younger son in the parable. Other stories are normal and are usual events in daily life, for instance the attitude of the woman who sweeps the house to look for the lost coin. As we shall see, these are different ways of urging people to think on life and on the presence of God in life.
b) A commentary on the text:
Luke 15:1-2: The key to the meaning of the three parables
The three parables in chapter 15 are preceded by this information: "The tax collectors and sinners, however, were all crowding round to listen to him, and the Pharisees and scribes complained saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!’" (Lk 15:1). On the one hand there are the sinners and publicans, on the other the Pharisees and scribes, and between the two groups stands Jesus. This was also happening in the 80’s when Luke was writing his Gospel. The pagans approached the communities, wanting to join and take part. Many of the brothers complained saying that to welcome a pagan was against Jesus’ teaching. The parables helped them discern. In the three parables we notice the same concern: to show what must be done to regain what was lost: the lost sheep (Lk 15:4-7), the lost coin (Lk 15:8-10), the two lost sons (Lk 15:11-32).
Luke 15:3-7: In the first parable you are invited to recover the lost sheep
Jesus speaks to his listeners: “If one of you has a hundred sheep…”. He says “one of you”. This means that you are challenged! You, he, she, all of us are challenged! We are asked to challenge ourselves with the strange and unlikely story of the parable. Jesus asks: “Which one of you with a hundred sheep, if he lost one, would fail to leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the missing one till he found it?” What is your answer to Jesus’ question? The way the question is put, we understand that Jesus thinks the answer must be positive. But will it be so? will it be positive? Would you run the risk of losing ninety-nine sheep in order to find the lost one? I hear a different reply in my heart: “I am very sorry, but I cannot do this. It would be silly to leave the ninety-nine sheep in the desert to find the lost one!” But God’s love is above all normal rules of behaviour. Only God can do such a crazy thing, so strange, so out of the normal behaviour of human beings. The background to this parable is the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees against Jesus (Lk 15:2). They considered themselves to be perfect and despised others, accusing them of being sinners. Jesus says: “I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine upright people who have no need of repentance”. In another place he says: “Tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you!” (Mt 21:31) According to Jesus, God is happier with the repentance of one sinner than with ninety-nine Pharisees and scribes. God is happier with the repentance of one atheist who never goes to church than with ninety-nine who consider themselves practising and faithful Catholics and who despise atheists and prostitutes. This different image of God that Jesus presents to the doctors, Pharisees and all of us is quite disturbing!
Luke 15:8-10: In the second parable, the woman looks for the lost coin
This parable is different. The short story of the lost coin alludes to the normal behaviour of poor women who do not have much money. The woman in the parable has only ten silver coins. In those days, a drachma was worth a day’s labour. For poor women, ten drachmas was a lot of money! That is why, if they lost one coin, they would look for it and sweep the whole house till they found it. And when they found it, they would be immensely happy. The woman in the parable talks to her neighbours: “Rejoice with me! I have found the drachma I had lost!” Poor people who were listening to the story would have said: “That’s right! That’s what we do at home! When we find the lost coin our joy is great!” Well, as comprehensible as the great as the joy of poor women is when they find the lost coin, much greater is God’s joy over one sinner who repents!
Luke 15:11-32: In the 3rd parable, the father tries to meet again his two lost sons
This parable is well known. It reminds us of things that happen in life as well as of other things that do not happen. The traditional title is “The Prodigal Son”. In fact, the parable does not speak only of the younger son, but describes the attitude of both sons, emphasising the father’s effort to recover his two lost sons. The fact that Luke places this parable in the central chapter of his Gospel, tells us how important it is for the interpretation of the whole message contained in Luke’s Gospel.
Luke 15:11-13: The younger son’s decision
A man had two sons. The younger son asks for his share of the inheritance. The father shares everything between them. Both the older son and the younger son receive their share. Inheriting something is no personal merit. It is a free gift. God’s bequest is shared as gifts with all human beings, Jews and pagans, Christians and non-Christians. All have some share in the Father’s bequest. Not all look after their share in the same way. Thus, the younger son goes off a long way and squanders his share by living a dissipated life and forgetting his Father. There is no mention yet of the older son who also received his share. Later, we shall know that he goes on staying at home, carrying on his life as usual and working in the fields. In Luke’s time, the older son represented the communities that came from Judaism; the younger son represented communities that came from paganism. Today, who is the younger and who the older son? Or may be both exist in each one of us?
Luke 15:14-19: The frustration of the younger son and the decision to go back to the Father’s house
The need for food causes the younger son to lose his freedom and become a slave, looking after pigs. He is treated even worse than the pigs. This was this situation of millions of slaves in the Roman Empire in Luke’s day. This situation reminds the younger son of his Father’s house: “How many of my father’s hired men have all the food they want and more, and here am I dying of hunger!” He sees his life for what it is and decides to go home. He even prepares his speech to his Father: “I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men!” A hired hand does what he is told, follows the law of servitude. The younger son wanted to follow the law, as the Pharisees and scribes wished to do in Jesus’ time (Lk 15:1). This is what the Pharisee missionaries imposed on the pagans they converted to the God of Abraham (Mt 23:15). In Luke’s time, Christians who came from Judaism wanted Christians who were converted from paganism to submit to the yoke of the law (Acts 15:1ff).
Luke 15:20-24: The Father’s joy at seeing the younger son
The parable says that the younger son was still a long way off from the house, but the Father saw him, ran to him and kissed him tenderly. Jesus gives the impression that the Father had been waiting all the time at the window, looking at the road, trying to see whether his son would appear on the road! To our way of feeling and thinking, the Father’s joy seems to be overdone. He will not let his son finish his prepared speech. He does not listen! The Father does not want his son to become a slave. He wants him to be a son! This is the great Good News that Jesus brings! A new robe, new sandals, a ring for his finger, a lamb, a feast! In this great joy at the meeting, Jesus gives us a glimpse of the Father’s great sorrow at the loss of his son. God was very sad and now people begin to be aware of this when they see the Father’s great joy at seeing his son once more! This joy is shared with all at the feast that the Father orders to prepare.
Luke 15:25-28b: The older son’s reaction
The older son comes back from work in the fields and sees that there is a feast in the house. He does not go in. He wants to know what is going on. When he is informed of the reason for the feast, he feels very angry and will not go in. Closed in on himself, he only thinks of his rights. He does not agree with the feast and cannot understand the Father’s joy. This implies that he did know his Father well, even though they lived in the same house. Had he known his Father, he would have been aware of the Father’s great sorrow at the loss of the younger son and he would have understood his joy at his return. Anyone who is too concerned with observing the law of God runs the risk of forgetting God himself! The younger son, even though he was away from home, seems to know the Father better than the older son who lived with him in the same house! Thus the younger son has the courage to go back to the Father’s house, while the older son no longer wants to go into his Father’s house! The older son does not want to be a brother, is not aware that, without him, the Father will lose his joy, because he too is son like the younger son!
Luke 15:28a-30: The Father’s attitude towards his older son, and the older son’s reply
The Father goes out of the house and begs his older son to go in. But the son replies: “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening!" The older son glories in his observance: “I have never once disobeyed your orders!” He too wants a feast and joy, but only with his friends. Not with his brother, not with his father. He does not mention his brother as such, he does not call him brother, but “this you son”, as if he were no longer his brother. It is he, the older brother, who speaks of prostitutes. It is his malice that interprets thus the life of his younger brother. How often does the older brother misinterpret his younger brother’s life! How often do Catholics misinterpret the life of others! The Father’s attitude is different. He goes out of the house for both sons. He welcomes the younger brother, but does not want to lose the older brother. Both are part of the family. The one must not exclude the other!
Luke 15:31-32: The Father’s final reply
Just as the Father pays no attention to the arguments presented by the younger son, so also he pays no attention to the older son’s arguments and says to him: "My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found!" Could it be that the older son was really aware of being always with the Father and to find in his presence the cause of rejoicing? The Father’s expression: “All I have is yours” includes also the younger son who has come back! The older son has no right to make distinctions. If he wishes to be his Father’s son, then he will have to accept him as he is not as he would like the Father to be! The parable does not give us the final answer of the older son. This concerns us, because we are all older brothers!
c) Further information:
The two economies: the Father’s House and the Master’s House
This parable is known as that of the prodigal son, and this implies the economic side of things. Prodigal means someone who spends freely, even though this is a secondary detail in the parable. Really, the main point of the text is found in the fact that the follower of Jesus will one day have to make a choice: the choice between the Father’s House or the system of sharing the master’s house or the system of accumulation.
The parable begins with a young man who asks the father to give him his share of the inheritance because he wants to leave home (Lk 15:12). To leave the Father’s house requires that the person have the one thing the world readily accepts: money. Without money the young man could not face the world. But the young man was not mature enough to administer the money and goes on a life of debauchery (Lk 15:13). To make things worse, when he had spent all his money, he goes through difficult economic times, which, in biblical language, are always described by the word “hunger”. In the biblical world, famine exists only when the economic structure has collapsed. So also the young man begins to be in need (Lk 15:14).
Difficulties faced generate maturity. The young man sees that he still needs money to survive in this world. So, for the first time in his life, he seeks employment (Lk 15:15). Thus he goes to theMaster’s House who sends him to look after pigs. He is very hungry, his wages are not sufficient and he tries to satisfy his hunger by eating the food given to the pigs (Lk 15:16). Meanwhile, in the master’s house things are not so simple: the pigs’ food is for the pigs. The worker must eat from the wages he gets for his service. Thus the master’s concern is not his worker’s hunger but to fatten the pigs. The young man discovers that in the master’s house food is denied, not shared, not even the food given to the pigs. Each for himself!
From his experience in the master’s house, the young man begins to compare his present situation with that in his father’s house. In his Father’s House the workers are not hungry because the bread is shared with all the workers. In the father’s house no one remains without food, not even the workers! The young man then decides to go back to his father’s house. Now he is sufficiently mature to know that he cannot be considered as son, so he asks his father for employment. In the father’s house the workers are not hungry because the bread is shared.
There are those who think that the son goes back because he is hungry. If so, his return would be opportunism. It is not this, but a choice for a particular kind of house. In the master’s house, nothing is shared, not even the pigs’ food. In the father’s house, no one is hungry because the mission of the Father’s House is to “fill the hungry with good things” (Lk 1:53). Sharing is the thing that keeps hunger away in the father’s house. But the young man discovers this only because he is hungry in the master’s house. Comparing the two models, the young man makes his choice: he prefers to be a worker in the father’s house, a place of sharing, a place where no one goes hungry and all are satisfied. So he goes back to the father’s house asking to be one of the workers (Lk 15:17-20).
By putting this reflection at the heart of his Gospel, Luke is warning the Christian communities that are organising themselves in the particular economic system of the Roman Empire. This system is symbolised in the parable by the master’s house, where pigs get more attention than workers, or, where investment is worth more than work. In the Father’s House, or in the house of Christians, this system cannot rule. Christians must concentrate their lives on sharing their goods. Sharing goods means breaking with the imperial system of domination. It means breaking with the master’s house. In the Acts of the Apostles we see that one of the beautiful characteristics of the Christian community lies in the sharing of goods (Acts 2:44-45; 3:6; 4:32-37).
Luke wants to remind us that the greatest sign of the Kingdom is the common table in the Father’s House, where there is room for all and where the bread is shared with all. Living in the Father’s House means sharing everything at the common table of the community. No one may be excluded from this table. We are all called to share. As we are constantly reminded in our celebrations: no one is so poor that he or she cannot share something. And no one is so rich that he or she may not have something to receive. The common table is built on sharing by all. Thus the feast in the Father’s House will be eternal.
The three parables have something in common: joy and the feast. Anyone who experiences the free and surprising entrance of the love of God in his or her life will rejoice and will want to communicate this joy to others. God’s saving action is source of joy: “Rejoice with me!” (Lk 15:6.9) It is from this experience of God’s gratuity that the sense of feasting and joy is born (Lk 15:32). At the end of the parable, the Father asks to be joyful and to celebrate. The joy seems to be dampened by the older son who does not want to go in. He wants the right to celebrate only with his friends and does not want to celebrate with the other members of his human family. He represents those who consider themselves just and think that they do not need conversion.
6. Praying a Psalm
Psalm 63(62): Your love is more than life
God, you are my God, I pine for you;
my heart thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
as a land parched, dreary and waterless.
Thus I have gazed on you in the sanctuary,
seeing your power and your glory.
Better your faithful love than life itself;
my lips will praise you.
Thus I will bless you all my life,
in your name lift up my hands.
All my longings fulfilled as with fat and rich foods,
a song of joy on my lips and praise in my mouth.
On my bed when I think of you,
I muse on you in the watches of the night,
for you have always been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice;
my heart clings to you,
your right hand supports me.
May those who are hounding me to death
go down to the depths of the earth,
given over to the blade of the sword,
and left as food for jackals.
Then the king shall rejoice in God,
all who swear by him shall gain recognition,
for the mouths of liars shall be silenced.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.