Ez 34:11-16; Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-6; Rm 5:5b-11; Lk 15:3-7
What gives joy to the LORD? What rejoices His Heart? “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Before we return to Sundays in Ordinary time, we have two more feasts to celebrate. Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and tomorrow we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These are the two most important people in all our celebrating. Without the tender hearts of Jesus and Mary, we would be overwhelmed by our own hard-heartedness. We fear no evil because Jesus Christ has a human heart that perfectly reveals the divine heart of His Eternal Father. While we were still helpless, Christ died for us and justified us in his blood as Saint Paul writes to the first Christians in Rome. In today’s gospel we read, again, the first of the three most tenderhearted parables in the entire New Testament.
The scattered and shattered tribes of the Exiled Israel need to hear the good news that the prophet Ezekiel preaches: “I myself will pasture my sheep.” The Lord God alone cares enough about his sheep to seek, to bring back, to bind up and to heal those who are so helpless and lost. Such a vision of comfort is a “sight for sore eyes” especially for those who have seen only betrayal, disrespect, and rejection from their leaders. At the very moment when they can bare it no longer, the Lord reveals who he is for them, One who leads them like a Good Shepherd. The Lord spreads a banquet before them and anoints their head with oil; their cups overflow. It is this Shepherd-Lord who proves his love for us “that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep! It is only love that provides the kind of background necessary for us to believe in a Good Shepherd who lays down his life on the altar of the cross and takes it up again in the glory of the resurrection.
This tenderhearted Shepherd even seeks out the proud and self-secure Pharisees and scribes. The Lord Jesus address three parables to this tough hearted crowd to catch them off guard, to catch them up in the net of his story. After this parable, he tells them about the woman and her lost coin. Then after preparing the ground with these two mercy parables, the Lord Jesus tells them the story of the Prodigal Son. Such a barrage of mercy parables attempts to break open the stony hearted professional religious crowd. They have God all figured out. They never expect God to take time for one lost sheep; He is entirely too busy with the larger picture to notice a single element. They never expect God to be bothered with one lost coin; He has such abundance to even care about one single coin. They are shocked and scandalized to share a vision of God in the father who runs down the road to embrace an unfaithful son. Indeed, the joy of heaven is completely beyond their calculations and expectations. It’s as startling as the vision of God Made Flesh, the crucified and risen One, whose own human heart exposes a truth that everyone needs to hear. While we were still hard hearted, the tenderhearted Lord reconciled us to Himself through the death of his Son. On earth is heard the echo of heavenly joy when we boast of our reconciliation through the human heart of the Divine Son of the Living God. Let the eternal banquet of love continue in our Eucharist.