Crazy! – The three parables of today’s lengthy Gospel challenge our conventional thinking. All three of them are quirky and describe people doing things that we most likely would NOT do. In fact all three of them, especially the first two, seem crazy. Who would ever do what the shepherd of the lost sheep and the woman of the lost coin do? No one, really. Likewise the Father in the Story of the Prodigal Son breaks all the rules of “tough love.” His forgiveness has an almost reckless quality. No father of Jesus’ time would ever tolerate such insolence from his sons. It just wasn’t accepted. So all three of these parables, at one level, are just plain crazy.

But that is one of the most fundamental points Jesus seems to be making here. The Heavenly Father’s love for us is just plain “crazy.” I do not mean it is irrational by using this word, but it does stretch the limits of our human thinking. Neither do I intend irreverence by using the word “crazy.” Permit a preacher’s hyperbole so that we can enter into the astonishing quality of God’s love and mercy. It cannot be understood or really explained in human terms. Who really understands unlimited and unconditional love? Who can really grasp the depths of God’s mercy? His grace is “amazing” in that it goes completely beyond my ability to comprehend. It transcends merely human concepts. Thank God! If God were like us we’d all be in trouble, frankly, we’d all be in Hell.

Let’s look at each Parable. The Gospel texts are too lengthy to reproduce here. But you can read the whole of it here: Luke 15

1. The Parable of the Lost Sheep- The Lord speaks of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to search for one who is lost. Would a shepherd likely do this? Probably not! The passage drips with irony, even absurdity. Perhaps if the lost sheep were near at hand he might venture over the next hill. But the average human shepherd would cut his losses and stay with the ninety-nine. Many of us might even consider it irresponsible to leave ninety-nine to search for one. Some people try and make sense of this parable by appealing to possible shepherding practices of the First Century. But this seems to miss the point that God’s love is extravagant, personal, and puzzling. In the end, it would seem that God loves us for “no good reason.” He seems to love us even “more” when we stray. He intensifies his focus on the one who strays. To us this is not only crazy, it is dangerous, possibly enabling. But don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

2. The Woman and the Lost coin- A woman loses a drachma. It is a small coin. Not worth that much really, perhaps one day’s wages for an agricultural worker. In modern terms less than $100. Not insignificant, but not really huge amount either. She sweeps diligently for it. So far, this seems reasonable. I’d probably look around a while for a missing “Benjamin” ($100 bill). But then it gets crazy. She finds it and rejoices to such an extent that she spends most, if not all of it, on a party celebrating the found coin! Crazy! But that is exactly the point. God doesn’t count the cost. Some commentators try to explain the craziness away by suggesting that perhaps the coin had sentimental value as part of her dowry or ceremonial head-dress of ten coins. But here too, over analyzing and trying to explain or make sense of it may well miss the point. This woman is crazy because God is crazy. His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable. 

3. The Prodigal Son- A young son, entitled by law to a third of the Estate (since he was the younger son) tells his Father to drop dead. He wants his inheritance now. The old man isn’t dying fast enough. Incredibly the father gives it to him! Crazy! No father in the ancient world would ever tolerate such irreverence and insolence from a son. The Father is a nobleman (land owner) and could hand his son over to serious retribution for such dishonor. The son leaves his father and goes off to “a distant land” where he sinks so low, he is looking up to pigs. He comes to his senses, rehearses a speech and returns to his father, hoping only to be a hired worker.

But here’s where it gets even crazier! The Father sees him a long way off (meaning he was looking for him). He does something a nobleman would not do: he runs. Running was considered beneath the dignity of a nobleman since it would imply he was either a slave on an errand or a fugitive running. Further, in order for a person to run in the ancient world, they had first to gird the loins of their garments. Since the garments were long flowing robes they had to be “hiked up.”  Otherwise, the legs would get tangled in the garment and the person would trip. But for a nobleman to show his legs was considered an indignity. Get the picture? This nobleman, this father, is debasing himself, humbling himself. He is running and his legs are showing. This is crazy. Do you know what this son has done? Done he deserve this humble love? No! This father is crazy! – Exactly! The heavenly Father is crazy too. He actually loves me and humbles himself for me. He even sent his own Son for me. Do you know what I have done….what you have done? Do we deserve this? No! It’s crazy.

The second son is also a handful. When he hears of the party for the wayward brother he refuses to enter. Again this is unthinkable in the ancient world for a son to refuse to report when summoned by a father. What does the father do? He comes out and pleads with him! Again, crazy! Unthinkable. No father in the ancient world would ever permit a son to speak to him in the way this second son spoke. The son basically calls him a slave-driver who issues orders and refuses to enter the party that his father is hosting. He says he’d  rather celebrate with his friends than with his father. But (pay attention here), the goal in life is not celebrate with your friends. The goal in life is to celebrate with the Father in heaven. 

This father is crazy. He is crazy because God the Father is crazy. Do you know what it is to refuse to do what God says? And yet we do it every time we sin! The heavenly Father should not have to tolerate this. He is God and we are creatures. If he wanted, he could squash us like a bug. But he does not. The father in this parable is almost “dangerously” merciful. Shouldn’t his sons learn a lesson here?  Shouldn’t he punish them both for their insolence? Yes, all our human thinking kicks in. But God is God, not man. There are other scriptures that speak of his punishments. But in the end, none of us get what we really deserve. The point of Jesus here is that God is merciful and his love is crazy. It makes no human sense.  His love for us is extravagant beyond what is humanly reasonable or explainable. Don’t try to figure it out. Don’t analyze too much. Just be astonished, be amazed. Yes, this is crazy. That God loves me is crazy, unexplainable.

Crazy!

 

31 Responses

  1. Vijaya says:

    Yes, even parental love cannot come close to defining God’s love. We are indeed lucky that God is crazy in love with us … happy, contented sigh.

  2. CastingCrown says:

    Whenever I lead Bible study, towards the end, I always ask the question: “How does this passage preach the Gospel?” Often times people are very tentative in suggesting in answer, but this week everyone was “Duh! God loves us so much He comes looking for us!”

    Makes me happy.

  3. Lester Solely says:

    Good article with some very good points. I would replace the ‘God is crazy’ part with ‘God’s Mind is not our mind.’ As the verse goes ‘so high above are My Thoughts than your thoughts’, or words to that effect. Saying something seems crazy to our knowledge or logic is fine, but I don’t think calling God crazy is wise…

  4. Becky says:

    Msgr Pope- Thank you for this sweet and beautiful illustration! I am sending it to a couple people whose hearts are just starting to open to God, and praying that he will speak to them through you, as he frequently does to me in your blogs.

  5. jedesto says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    I can’t find the quote online, but I believe it’s near the end of Graham Greene’s novel, The End of the Affair, where he has one of the characters remark about how “desperately” God loves us. Crazily, too.

  6. adele says:

    Msgr.Pope….You are in good company with the use of hyperbole…Jesus often used it Himself when tryng
    to impress an important point on our imperfect minds…as in Matt. 5: 27-30. Thanks for this wonderful
    description/reminder of God’s love for us….inspite of how unworthy we are, we can always come to the Father!

  7. Doctor Victoria A. Howard, Anchoress says:

    Yes, God forgives us anything. But should we forgive criminals and let them out of jail? Wouldn’t all Hell break loose? God does not let us out of Hell at all; and out of Purgatory, he only allows after we have paid the price. Pope John Paul II did not ask the government to allow his potential assassin out of jail. Forgiveness should only go so far. Jesus’ parables are hyperboles in my opinion. Even if we confess our sins, we must take the temporal punishment, all of us sooner or later. Yes, God does require that we pay for our sins. Is this a contradiction? No, not at all. There are simply some things that our law requres when people break it.

    • Dismas says:

      Dr. Howard,

      You call to mind a couple of quotes from Msgr’s 9/8 post ‘The Cross is the Tuning Fork the True Faith’

      ‘God chastises every son who he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son.’ (sermo 46:10-11) (St. Augustine)

      ‘The cross is like a tuning fork. Without the “A 440″ of the Cross the whole symphony is out of tune.’ (Msgr Pope)

  8. adele says:

    Here is what St. Bernard of Clairvaux had to say about chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel:

    “What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself that which needed
    mercy? Where is there such fullness of loving-kindness as in the fact that the Word of God became
    perishable like the grass for our sakes?…Let man infer from this how much God cares for him. Let him
    know from this what God thinks of him, what he feels about him. Man, do not ask about your own sufferings,
    but what he suffered. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you, so that his kindness
    may show itself to you from his humanity. The lesser he has made himself, in his humanity, the greater he
    has shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages
    my love.”

  9. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    There would appear to be nothing crazy about God’s love because it is all consuming and beyond all worldly understanding but not beyond spiritual wisdom. When we strive for the latter and not the former, then it is only natural and a redeeming experience of being. That’s challenging for us but not impossible. We are so close and yet often so far away. Focused on the temporal but existing in the eternal. Chasing blind ambitions while the will of God swirls around us like gusts of wind. Sail into the mystic.

  10. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    After meditating on these three parables, it would appear there is nothing crazy about God’s love. It is in losing the ambitions of our material dreams that we gain the spiritual wisdom of God’s eternal love Who’s will exceeds blind temporal wishes. The insight gained in finding what was lost allows us to express and share the redeeming experience of God’s love and wisdom. It is so close and yet most often so far away because of our ignorance of the obvious. Out of our chaotic battles tring to hold things under control, the Spirit arises like a gust of wind unawares. Sail into the Mystic.

  11. Tom says:

    This post reminds me of St. Catherine of Siena’s expressions of wonder. E.g., “O eternal, infinite Good! O mad lover! And you have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her, in spite of the fact that you are Life itself, and everything has life from you and nothing can have life without you.

    “Why then are you so mad? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her within yourself, as if you were drunk for her salvation. She runs away from you and you go looking for her. She strays and you draw closer to her: You clothed yourself in our humanity, and nearer than that you could not have come.”

  12. Michael says:

    In light of all this, we need to be careful in asking the Father to forgive us as we forgive others. Fortunately, he forgives me a whole lot better than I forgive others.

  13. Grandpa Tom says:

    Todays (Monday wk IV) reading from the Divine Office – Liturgy of the Hours; Office of Readings at the intercessions says:
    “We praise you, Lord, we hope in you.
    We thank you because you are rich in mercy,
    -and for the abundant love with which you have love us.

    With out God’s love and mercy, there would be no salvation. In Shakespeare’s – “The Merchant of Venice,” Portia say of mercy: “it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed.
    It is blessed by him that gives and him that takes. — This the mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown. — The attribute to awe and majesty, wherein doth sit the dread and fear of Kings; — But mercy is above this scept’red sway; It is entrhroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power doth then show likest God’s. When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew (Shylock), though justice be thy plea, consider this: That in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. — We do pray for mercy. And that same prayer doth t each us all to render the deeds of mercy. I have spoken thus much to mitigate the justice of thy plea.”

  14. Tewkes says:

    You make so many excellent points, and I suspect the visiting priest at our parish last night feels the same way. His homily was very much like what I have read here. I always learn something when I read your posts, Msgr. Pope. Thank you so much for all that you do for your online flock.

  15. Peter Wolczuk says:

    The first thing which came to my mind was the time, years ago, when I told a woman that I was madly in love with her. There are probably others who frequent these pages who have said the same thing. Crazy/mad – synonyms? If they’re not exactly then any differences would hardly be worth debating.
    But then I ask myself; is God’s love so crazy that it goes right around the “circle” to the other end of the spectrum to super sane? Or, better yet, is His love for us so infinitely and perfectly sane in a way that is so beyond our understanding that it seems crazy from our limited human viewpoint. Seems like a good illustration of why the Mysteries are so important.
    But, then when I read the part of the father of the prodigal humbling himself, I can’t help but think of Christ’s humility during His mission to ransom us from the consequences of our actions (sin.) From a heavanly status at the right hand of God the Father to a human carpenter who takes up a mission; In Matthew 11:29 He is “humble of heart”; and…in Matthew 27:27-31 His coronation. The most powerful military force in North Africa, Europe and the Mediterranian part of Asia crowns Him not with a crown of gold and jewels, but with thorns. Nor is He crowned by the Emporer, or even a centurion. He is crowned by the rank and file soldiers whose sweat and blood on the ground had built & maintained the empire. And the scorn, mockery and physical violence which they heaped on Him. Who but a humble King would go through such a coronation, or submit to it being done by the common soldiers. A coronation which was confirmed when the Jews asked that the sign reading “King of the Jews” be changed to read that He was accused of claiming that He was such a king when Pilate replied, “What I have written, I have written.” A comfirmation by the Roman commander of the area.

  16. sbay says:

    Sia lo dato Gesù Cristo! la tua opera è davvero grandissima. ci hai toccato i nostri cuori. Sei un’istrumento del’ amore e la misericordia di Dio. Dio ti benedica

  17. Maureen says:

    Actually, shepherds do spend a huge amount of their time looking for lost sheep. It’s a standard pain in the butt feature of sheep that they get lost, climb up crags, fall down precipices, wander into areas they can’t get out of, etc. Whether they’re alive or dead, the shepherd generally wants to find the sheep and recover it. (Dead sheep attract predators.) It’s helpful to have tracking skills, as you can see.

    Of course, this is why it’s very very handy to have a sheep dog to watch your sheep while you’re off. But most of the sheep will stay with their bellwether or their alpha ewe if it doesn’t take long. There’s often a very large amount of territory to search even within sight of the flock (particularly if you are searching crags and precipices around an area with grass). Alternately, you can be out all night while the other sheep are in the fold.

  18. Peter Wolczuk says:

    Upon occasion I will become stuck on a thought until it gets expressed to one or more other people. Then, the ability to take my perception to the next level becomes available. After my post here (and the reactions) a question came to me. I stress that it came as something that should be expressed as a question; not a declaration.
    The Holy Trinity is One Who is Three and Three Who are One in ways which will probably be forever beyond my ability to understand but; with all three being so close then – if One feels intense physical pain (such as scourging, being crowned with thorns & crucifixion) wouldn’t the other two also feel the pain equally? The probable answers to this question which come to mind leaves me boggled at how great God’s love for is amounts to.

  19. Hayward says:

    I understand where your coming from. God appreciates your honest feelings about him. Meaning if you explain his love as crazy he gets it. God would rather us to be be real with him than to tell lies that we respect him so much, when most people don’t even truly honor him. ” they honor him with there lips but there heart is far from him”. God would rather you be straight up with him and say your mad at him, than to act like you love him and ” oh he’s so holy and righteous”. Be honest with God but also with respect. He’s your friend, not a mean ruler who will throw you in hell for being honest or expressing yourself to him.

  20. andy estrada says:

    I love this message! God is so amazing. Keep on being salt and light, we are His hands and feet, spreading the LOVE of God! so awesome. thanks

  21. Dennis says:

    Thank you…I really needed just this word at just this moment.

  22. Doug says:

    I am an evangelical pastor and I’m not sure If I’ve ever read a better synopsis of God’s love. Deeply inspiring and moving. Thank you.

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