Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year (C) 9/12/10
Rdg 1 Ex 32:7-11;13-14 The Lord relented in the punishment
Psalm 5 I will rise and go to my Father
Rdg 2 1 Tim 1:12-17 Christ came to save sinners
Lk 15:1-32 JOY finding lost sheep, coin, son; over one repentant
With JOY at finding the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son as the centerpiece of Jesus’ message today, I would have to say we are being directed toward an understanding of God that might cause a few folks a little conflict. Why is a dour punishing God so much more acceptable than a loving, encouraging and forgiving God? When we review Jesus’ ministry, his preaching and teaching, of which God is Jesus the face?
“Christ came to save sinners,” is boldly proclaimed in our second reading. “The Lord relented in the punishment,” comes from our first reading. And Jesus gives us not one, but three parables to get our thoughts moving in the direction of receiving his message that “there is more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner …” Sin is clearly evident around and within us. And the consequences of sin have to be dealt with all the time. What is the only effective way to combat sin – mercy/forgiveness/compassion/understanding/involve-ment/sound teaching/good example/right living/becoming agents of God’s love….
Someone once told me: “you ‘do gooders’ always want to make us look for the good in the dregs of society.” And why not? Jesus did. He ate with sinners let them touch him; listened – really listened to their stories – their hurt, pain, disappointment, sadness. And he didn’t buy their affection or regard with promises of pie in the sky. But he revealed to them in his person, God’s loving caring presence and taught them: “now make this same love and care happen with your words and your actions – with your lives.” Oh it is costly. And one is not being asked to neglect oneself. But like the father in the story of the prodigal son, you can’t wait from your place on high with a stern expression ready to say: “I told you so.” Perhaps you remember a time in your life when you erred. Perhaps you allow the memory of what you longed for as you faced your less than noble self, move you to hurry over to greet and welcome, to celebrate a prodigal’s return.
Too many can only see themselves as the sum total of all their missteps. For too many the message has been for so long “you are not acceptable – not good enough,” it is hard to believe that there could be a welcome on return. And yet Jesus goes out to look for the sheep who have strayed. Where in society do we see Jesus’ initiatives bringing transformation? What a profoundly moving experience to be in the presence of someone who has reclaimed their God given dignity after being lost in addiction or relationships that did not allow them to have any sense of self worth or self esteem.
Clearly Jesus’ parables are saying if finding a lost sheep or coin is something to be celebrated how much more should we celebrate the return of one of God’s children who has gone off course – one who has been lost. There is so much we can say about this image of the prodigal’s return as it is sketched in the gospel of Luke.
But now – how wonderful to be given these readings to pray over on the weekend containing the date September 11th – the anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center. How well I remember Father Francis coming into the conference room of the library and interrupting our class to give us the terrible news of a plane hitting one of the twin towers. He set up a television in the board room of the administration building and a number of us saw for ourselves the footage of the second tower being struck by a second plane. My youngest brother had been assigned to work at the Trade Center that day. While driving to work he received a call from his boss to go to a job just 4 blocks away. I wish I could say that no one I knew personally perished at that site. But that is not the case. Through this lens I have focused my reflections in preparing my homily for today.
Theoretical forgiveness is quite an attractive thing. We long to be like God whose mercy is beyond what we can imagine. To be Christ in the world today – and the baptized are the presence of Christ – is to continue the work Jesus inaugurated. He came to save sinners. The loss of life, the hatred that hatched and executed the plan which brought destruction at three locations back on September 11th, the collective memory which this anniversary puts squarely before us, challenges us and we feel the challenge. But as Pope John Paul II taught when he visited prison to forgive the man who shot him, we forgive to do good for ourselves just as much as for the other person. In his conference, Father Isaac quoted Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Even God cannot put more in a vessel that is already full.” If we are filled with resentments, anger, sadness, past hurts or sins and never put any of that down – how can God give us peace, joy, grace in their place? We need what God is offering to move beyond the pain, anger, loss, and disquiet and God will help us but we have to make the journey back to God and empty ourselves to receive all that God wishes to give.
Yes there is joy in getting property or money we thought was gone forever. But today God is asking us if we can rejoice in being reunited with Him and seeing others, even people we don’t like, experiencing this God initiated reunion? In Word and Sacrament God is enabling us to meet his welcoming love as we celebrate the Eucharist this morning. Truly God wants us to experience the love, the desire, God has for us. Can there be a deeper joy?