Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14
Psalm Psalm 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 19
Second Reading 1 Timothy 1:12–17
Gospel Luke 15:1–32
Psalm 51:3–4, 12–13, 17, 19
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Reading the Word
Exodus 32:7–11, 13–14
TheLordsaid to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ”. The Lordsaid to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
But Moses implored the Lordhis God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ”. And the Lordchanged his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
1 Timothy 1:12–17
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.” ’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’ ”
Hearing the Word
“God’s Passion for the People”
Today’s liturgy takes a deeper look at sin and forgiveness; identifying the reason behind God’s willingness to act mercifully towards those who turn away from him.
The first reading reports a dialogue between God and Moses, following the grave sin of idolatry, which the Israelites committed soon after their liberation from Egypt. They made a golden calf, an image resembling the gods of their oppressors, and worshiped it. In doing so, they disowned the true God who had liberated them from Egypt, and broke the covenant which has just been made at Sinai.
God angrily decided to respond in a reciprocal way. He speaks to Moses about “your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt”, implying that they are Moses’ people, not his. God disowned them and intended to destroy this unfaithful nation and start afresh with Moses as the father of a new nation.
Moses’s response reveals his greatness as a leader. He did not take up God’s tempting offer. Rather, to save the nation, he reminded God about the promise God had made to the Israelite ancestors, the patriarchs. If God disowns their descendants, then God would be like the Israelites – unreliable and unfaithful. In response, God’s anger subsided, and the nation was saved. God remained loyal to his disloyal children.
In this dialogue, the biblical authors present God in a very human manner – driven by emotions and intending to act with vengeance. This happens frequently in the Bible because there is no other way to speak about God but to use human analogy which the reader can understand. The whole point of this story is that, humanly speaking, God had every reason to be angry and to abandon the people who abandoned him, as a human being would. God did not do so, choosing instead to uphold the promise to make them a great nation, made when he first chose Abraham as their ancestor. The God of Israel was, and will remain always, loyal to that promise.
The second reading contains Paul’s autobiographical statement where he recalls his pre-Christian life as a blasphemer and a violent persecutor of Christ’s followers, which Paul never denied or concealed. Instead, he willingly acknowledged his past to make of himself a living example of God’s transforming mercy and power which changed Saul the sinner into Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
Since his offenses were great – by his own admission he was “the foremost of sinners” – his transformation demonstrates the unbound power and unrestricted scope of God’s mercy. This mercy became effective through Jesus who was sent into the world to save sinners, such as Paul. After his transformation, Paul’s entire life was devoted to the service of this great and merciful God, with the goal of bringing the Gentiles to faith in him and his Son. Paul concluded this short exposition with an exuberant praise of God whom he calls the king of ages, the mortal, the invisible, the only God. The same God who forgave the sins of the people at Sinai, also forgave the sin of Paul. Through this forgiveness God “owned” Paul, so that he might lead the Gentiles to God by being a living proof of God’s mercy.
The gospel passage contains two parables and a story in which God’s passion for his people is superbly revealed. The first parable, often called “the lost sheep”, is not about a sheep but about a shepherd who risks ninety-nine sheep in order to find a single lost one. The shepherd acts recklessly, endangering the entire flock for the sake of a single animal. This extraordinary action reveals the shepherd’s burning passion and deep concern for each member of his flock. This parable makes a point that God, like a passionate shepherd, refuses to give up on any member of his flock and would go to any length in order to reunite the lost one to himself.
The second parable, often titled “the lost coin”, is, in fact, about a woman who goes to great lengths to find a single lost coin. The surprising element in this parable is that, after finding the coin, the woman throws a party for her neighbours and friends, a banquet that would cost her much more than the coin she found. Again, the point of the story is to show that God, like a woman gripped by the desire to hold on to all her coins, would not rest until he finds the one who was lost.
The final story, often called “the prodigal son”, is not about the son but about the father concerned to reunite his two lost sons to himself. The younger son, the prodigal one, disowns his father by asking for his inheritance. In fact, he acts as if the father was already dead because that is when the division of property was normally done. He then separates himself from the family and squanders his wealth. Left with nothing he returns hoping for forgiveness. However, the real hero of the story is the father waiting for the son’s return. Seeing his son from afar, he runs to embraces his lost child, and, like the woman in the previous story, throws an exuberant party to celebrate the reunion.
The older son, the righteous one, does not understand the father’s decision to welcome back the one who deserted him. He thinks that his father acts unfairly towards him, the older son,, and, self-righteous and offended, he refuses to enter the household and join the celebration. Now, it is the older son who disowns the family and separates himself from the father. The father again takes the initiative. Coming out of the house, the father reassures the older son of his love and appreciation for him, seeking to bring him back to the family. This is the story about the father whose chief concern is to keep his family together, which he does acting with forgiveness towards the younger son and with understanding towards the older.
These three stories present a uniform message – God burns with an ardent desire to keep each of his children united to himself. His concern is particularly for those who became lost in life or separate themselves from the one who passionately desires their friendship.
Today’s liturgy reveals a deeper dimension of forgiveness. God forgives because of his burning passion for the people. This passion could be simply called “love”. Because of this love God did not disown the people of Israel, even though they abandoned him for a golden calf they themselves had made. Paul’s life story shows that God was so concerned with salvation of the Gentiles that he transformed a violent persecutor of Christians into the apostle of the Gentiles. In the Gospel, the depth of God’s love is beautifully portrayed by the three images, of the shepherd in search for a lost sheep, a woman in a search for a lost coin, and a concerned father yearning for his sons. This is a God who is not merely concerned with dispensing justice or forgiveness, but a God who burns with passion for his people. The Psalmist knew this fully well and therefore opened his prayer for forgiveness with the words, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.”
Listening to the Word of God
Today’s liturgy reminds us of God’s passionate love for us. This love means that God does not abandon us even if we stray far away from him. Instead, in every instant of our lives, his loving gaze is upon us. Even when we wander far away from him by becoming lukewarm and indifferent, he keeps on searching for us until we come back to him. His mercy and love ensure that we are always welcomed back to his loving embrace. Aware of this, we must be always thankful for this mercy and love.
The story of the sin the Israelites committed on Sinai provides a good reason to have confidence in God’s salvific passion for us. God clearly did not approve of the actions of his people who have disregarded him who had delivered them from slavery, by making an idol for themselves. Yet, he did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. Instead, God forgave them and renewed the covenant. His passion for his people was and is so great that it covers up infidelities and betrayals. This passion ensures that God’s infinite love for his people will always remain firm.
Saint Paul stands out as a perfect inspiration to take a return journey to God. In the first letter to Timothy, Paul acknowledges his past and recounts the abundant mercy God had showed him. His example exhorts us not to remain in the past, but, relying on God’s mercy, to look forward to the future. Many, if not all of us, at certain moments of our lives, have forgotten God, we have made various idols for ourselves. Some of us have made the social media, smartphones, sports, drugs or pornography idols which took over our lives and which we willingly worshiped. These idols have taken us away from God. Still, God never abandons us, so that we can we can be reconciled and return to him. God’s mercy goes further that any distance we could have reached in our flight from him. For Paul, the transforming mercy and power of God in his life turned him from a bold persecutor and a man of violence into an ardent apostle of Christ. If we find ourselves in similar state of separation from God, we can also allow the transforming mercy and power of God to bring us back to him.
In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us about the ardent desire of God to keep us ever by his side. Because of his passionate love for us, God never will give up on us. Because of this love, God will search for us until we come back to him. His love for us is unconditional and without end. Even if we did not feel this love when we surrounded ourselves with the idols we have carved for ourselves, he still loves us, and he is ready to forgive us in order to help us change our future. This is well reflected in the African saying, “when you forgive you don’t change the past but you change the future.” Let us leave the past at the mercy of God, which is greater than our sins, and let us open ourselves to a better future, trusting in God’s passionate love for us.
“When you forgive you don’t change the past but you change the future.”
Am I able to see the hand of God at work in me and my life?
Can I forgive myself for the mistakes of the past and love myself just as I am now?
Response to God
In the course of this week I will begin each day with an attitude of thanksgiving by praying the Magnificat of Mary during my morning and evening prayers.
Response to your World
I will give the little I can afford to those in need on my way to school/work with a prayerful heart as a sign of my gratitude to God’s passionate love for me.
As a group, during our prayer session each one of us will write down on a sheet of paper events that made us felt the passionate love of God in our lives. We shall then put those pieces of paper together and burn them while singing or praying the Magnificat.
God our Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love and mercy to us, your children. We thank you for your constant gaze on us even when we wander far away from you. You do not abandon us, but lead us back to you. Grant us the grace to grow in fidelity and walk worthy of our calling. We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.