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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 15

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-32

XV 1-32 God’s Joy in pardoning the Sinner —The prospect and the tone here change; there is no longer a note of severity and renunciation but one of confidence in the astonishing kindness of God towards frail human nature, ’a mercy that even anticipates the repentance of the sinner and pursues him in order to render him worthy of pardon’ ( Lagr., GJC II62). But there is more than that, for the Pharisees were familiar enough with the Bible’s insistence on the mercies of God; what is revealed here by the Son is the joy that overflows from the Father’s heart when he wins back one of his children by repentance. Here is the true meaning of that µeta???a or ’penance’ which the Gospel so often insists on. There is little need to explain the three parables in which this truth is illustrated; a truth that is one of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God revealed not only to the disciples but also to them that are without (cf. 8:10). In view of the stern teaching on renunciation just recorded it is a remarkable contrast to find the publicans and sinners drawing near to Jesus to hear him; a clear proof that he could speak with such apparent severity without ceasing to show himself the kind and loving person Lk has presented to us in his earlier chapters. It is only the Scribes and Pharisees whose bitter opposition prejudices them against him however he speaks, and here they are still faithful to the role they have always adopted. These parables are spoken in answer to their complaints against the familiar friendliness our Lord insists on showing to sinners.

4-7 Parable of the Lost Sheep —A parallel is found in Matthew 18:11-14 but in a different context, the warning against scandal. Mt restricts himself to the bare terms of the comparison; all the details of Lk’s version seem so exaggerated that we almost expect the audience to protest that no human shepherd would act in so extraordinary a way: leaving ninety-nine sheep, when the flock is collected at night in the sheep-fold, in order to return to the dark hillside to look for a strayed one; when it is found, carrying the heavy sheep down the hill on his shoulders with joy; rousing his fellow shepherds to share his joy. But that is the precise point of the parable; our Lord’s answer to the objection is: ’I agree: no human shepherd would act thus. But that is the way the Divine Shepherd behaves over one of his lost children’. The OT presents God so often in the guise of a Good Shepherd that every Jew must have seen the application; cf.Isaiah 40:11; Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 66:12, etc. There is no lack of consideration for the just in 7, nor is there any ironical reference here to the Pharisees (cf. 18:9). It is merely that the just have not been the occasion for such joy as God and the whole heavenly court feel over the conversion of a sinner. The same conclusion in different words is in 31-32.

840 The Lost Drachma —Proper to Lk and repeating the same theme, as though to add further emphasis. The Greek drachma is roughly equal to the Roman denarlus or penny, reckoned a day’s pay for a workman. The situation seems to grow in tragedy; before it was one lost out of a hundred, now it is one of ten. Hence there is no improbability in the woman’s going to such trouble to find the lost coin, but there is the same improbable invitation to the neighbours to rejoice over the find. The joy of the angels recalls 2:10-14 and contrasts strongly with the grumbling discontent of the Pharisees who, by inference, are not God’s friends and neighbours since they do not rejoice with him.

11-32 The Prodigal Son —Nothing parallel to this wonderful parable in any of the other gospels. Lagrange notes that the traditional title is too restricted; it has been well said that a better title would be The Prodigal Father, who was as reckless in loving as the son was in spending. In this parable, which no mortal would have dared to invent, our Lord reveals the very heart of God in order to inspire the sinner with confidence to approach him. It is not now a question of one out of a hundred, or even out of ten, but one of two, and these two the only sons of a loving father.

12-16. The contrasts are striking: the younger son and spoilt child, little sensible of the father’s love, almost impatient for the father’s death so that he may receive the inheritance, departing as soon as he has got his desire. The following details are masterly: loss of money, a great famine, absolute want, a Jewish hireling under a Gentile master in ’a far country’, a feeder of swine. A Jew in a pig-sty with his head almost in the pig-trough! In the allegorization of the parable these details provide a powerful picture of the sad state to which the sinner is reduced when he departs from his heavenly Father. 17-20. At last his eyes are opened to realize his situation; as the Gospel insists, the true basis of penance or repentance (µeta???a) is the sincere admission of sinfulness with a determination to destroy sin by returning to God; cf. 3:3 ff. The suggestion of the parable is clear: all the time that the son has forgotten his father, the father has not forgotten his son, but has looked out daily for his return with longing; hence he sees him ’when he was yet a great way off’. Unlike the Pharisees, he is waiting with love and compassion to make the first move towards reconciliation.

21-24. The erring son is not allowed to finish the confession he has prepared; there can be no question of his being taken back as a hireling: he is restored immediately to the dignity of a son. And lest he be disgraced before the household by his rags and destitution, the father quickly orders a robe of the first quality, a ring for his finger, shoes for his feet; to complete all and bring us back to the thought of the Messianic Great Supper, a feast of the best is prepared with music and singing. This echoes the joy of God and the angels in 7 and 10.

25-30. With sudden contrast here now appears over against the loving enthusiasm of the father, the unfeeling coldness of the other son; we return to the Pharisaic complaint in 2.

31-32. Here is the true description of God’s regard for the just: ’Son, thou art always with me and all I have is thine’. The conclusion in 32 is essentially the same as that of the two former parables. It was long the fashion to regard this parable as an allegory of the Jews (the elder son) and the Gentile sinners; but the younger son does not represent the sinner: he is the sinner. Some again regard the elder son as representing the real just, others as the hypocritical just, i.e. the Pharisees. In the former case it might be said that the parable shows how even the friends of God do not always realize the unplumbed depths of God’s mercy. But it would be false to the parable to see the Pharisees in the elder brother; our Lord was far from admitting that they had served God faithfully. See Lagr., GJC II 62-7 for an excellent treatment of this chapter.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Luke 15". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/luke-15.html. 1951.
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