The parables in the reading for the 10th/11th September teach us about the joy of God at the repentance of the sinner. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
1 The tax collectors and the sinners, meanwhile, were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, 2 and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man,’ they said, ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ 3 So he spoke this parable to them:
4 ‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness 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? “Rejoice with me,” he would say, “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 repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men 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? “Rejoice with me,” she would say, “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.’
Other readings: Exodus 32:7-11,13-14 Psalm 50 (51) 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke contains three parables: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son. The first two parables are given above and we will focus on these. The parable of the prodigal son was read this year on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.
The evangelist gathers these three parables together because they all teach us about the joy of God at the repentance of the sinner. The opening verses tell us about those among Jesus’ hearers who were severely critical of his welcome to sinners. They ‘complained’. The Greek word in the original text of the gospel also means ‘grumble’. Those who complain here are like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son who refuses to join the celebration of his younger brother’s return.
The first two parables are rather startling. Would a shepherd really leave the care of ninety-nine sheep to search for one? Would a woman who found a lost coin really put on a feast to celebrate? The lack of realism in these parables teaches us that God’s behaviour goes far beyond human normality. God forgives in an outstanding way. In giving us a Saviour, God shows a love far beyond any human love. The scribes and Pharisees found the forgiving love of God hard to accept. But what about us?
Do I rejoice at the return of the sinner or consider God to be soft?
Do I try to stretch my heart and mind to grasp the extraordinary ways of God?
Let us pray for those who grumble at the forbearance of God.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy