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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept.

15, 2013 (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32) There is clearly a thematic connection between the wayward and stiff-necked people, whom Moses had led out slavery into freedom, and the younger son of the Gospel who leaves his family and eventually everything he took from his family because he too was wayward and stiff-necked. In the case of Exodus, Moses plays his role of intermediary between the people and the Lord to the hilt. The Exodus author had no problem placing Moses in the role of having to remind the Lord of why the divine wrath should not be raised against your people. They are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob), who first received the promise of numerous offspring from the Lord. Moses pleading is successful. The Lord decides not to punish the people for making a molten calf and worshipping it. Moses will have more to say to the people, when he descends the mountain, but unlike the Lord, who relented from punishing them, Moses will ultimately destroy three thousand of the unrepentant ones. The parable of the Prodigal Son (or better, of the Forgiving Father) shows a rebellious son who wants not only his freedom, but his inheritance as well. This story is unique to Lukes Gospel, which is surprising, given its universal appeal. It had to have come from Lukes unique source. Had it been available to Mark and Mathew, it is inexplicable why the other evangelists would not have included the story in their gospels. The parable is preceded by the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The lost sheep parable is also found in Matthews Gospel but the lost coin and the lost son are unique to Luke. All three parables are told to Pharisees and Scribes who grumble that Jesus has been eating with tax collectors and sinners.

All three parables note the joy of the one who finds what was lost and compares it to the joy in heaven over a sinner who repents. In the last parable the joy revolves around the son who was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and has been found. As an illustration of what God is like, the forgiving father poses a dramatic contrast with the image of God in the first reading. Clearly the father is the real focus of the parable which begins: A man had two sons. It is also clear from the telling of the tale that neither son was praiseworthy. The younger one splits the family harmony, wastes away his inheritance and winds up hitting bottom. The older boy thought it was necessary to be a slave to his father (All these years I have served you). But the verb served here really waters down the meaning of slaved for. This adds to our understanding of the parable. The younger son at least knew that he could return to his father, even if he had lost his status as son, or so he thought. The older son never knew what it meant to be a son and regarded himself as little better than a slave to his father. But the father in the parable only wanted both of them to be his sons. The messy family dynamics make the story come alive. Today wed probably say they were a seriously dysfunctional family. Yet, as a lesson about the nature of God as a loving Father, the story has no equal. It remains a classic.

Fr. Lawrence Hummer