Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel contains the familiar story of the prodigal son. We all know the plot. Two sons grow up in a wholesome family in Spokane, one son decides he wants to see the world, runs up the credit card while living a debauched lifestyle in Seattle and then, when he realizes that things are not working out the way he thought they would, returns to the arms of a loving family. Change the situation to whatever cities, time and place you want, the story is both timeless and surprising. The surprise, of course, is the very nature of a parable.
A parable is a story which relies on a familiar story line and predictable situations. For example, there is the story of the shepherd and the one-hundred sheep. Jesus knew that he was speaking to those familiar with moving sheep from one pasture to another and that the job was to keep as many together as possible. One wanders off, well tough luck…So when Jesus asked which one of you would leave the ninety-nine on the hillside; the presumed answer would be no one. And yet, the story continues about the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine and going for the one lost. No doubt, those who heard this parable thought it a little odd, just as odd as it would be to forgive a truant son or daughter.
What is unique about a parable is unique about the message of Jesus. In humanity’s search to be like God, oddly enough, we imitate the divine more closely not in feats of majesty but in works of mercy.