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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

What is the beverage of choice in heaven?

I came to a somewhat startling conclusion the other day. It was a little surprising to me, but the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became. I realized the answer to today’s Gospel question. What is the beverage of choice in heaven? Milk! Yes, plain old milk is the drink of choice up in heaven. Not the wine of Cana of Galilee, nor the waters of the Jordan river – flowin’ so deep and wide; it’s not even Fr. Johnson’s favorite scotch or the Manhattan – the signature drink of St. Justin Martyr, but milk. Now, you may be thinking – “Great, Father has completely lost his marbles (and you might be right, but for different reasons)” and “it’s time to call in the trained professionals”, but I think I can make a valid case for my thought process. And it has to do with this section of Luke’s gospel.

All three of the stories we heard today are about finding what was lost, aren’t they? The one sheep of the ninety-nine, the one coin of the ten, the two sons of the prodigal Father – these are stories about things that are lost. And once found, we hear the result: “There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, than over those who have no need to repent.” (Do you see where I am going yet?) That which gives God the most pleasure is seeking out and finding that which is lost.

So, what goes on the side of milk cartons in our country? Pictures of people who are lost. Missing children. Folks who are far from home, far from love, far from where they should be. So around the dining halls of heaven there must be cartons upon cartons of milk, with pictures of all who are lost, all who are in need of prayer, and all who are in need of being found. And in more ways than I care to admit, I know that my picture is on the side of some of those milk cartons.

I realize that I have been like the younger son. I have denied my ‘inheritance’ as beloved son in the choices that I made to merit the love God so freely gives. I am the younger son who has searched for acceptance in the wrong places. I so easily set out from the only home I need to know God’s love – my prayer and relationship with him – and seek affirmation in the distant country of status, of being a ‘good pastor’ at St. Justin’s, of being liked and popular in my new digs.

I have been like the older son when I am resentful in doing the things that I have freely chosen to do. No one made me get ordained. No one forced me to choose a life of service. And yet, I find myself protective of my time – not willing to say an extra Mass at a local high school, not wanting to go to a local pastor’s luncheon about a secular Christmas program in Crestwood; not willing to…. And suddenly, I am like the older son, standing outside of the joy, standing outside of the banquet of love, standing outside because my resentment won’t let me celebrate the love the father has for anyone but me…

The sheep, the coin, the two brothers were all listed at one time on the side of a milk carton in heaven. If we are honest, there are many times you and I have been there as well. There are a hundred ways we have resisted and refused the love of God that is here for us at this table. As we pray into these stories of ‘finding and rejoicing’ in Luke’s gospel, may we return to the embrace of our Father – who didn’t ask questions of the lost sheep or the lost sons – but who wanted them to know: “Everything I have is yours.” And who wanted them to celebrate, because what was lost can always be found at this table…

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