By Martin Jumbam
Mother Church celebrates Sunday September 15, 2013 as the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C. In the entrance antiphon we pray: “Give peace, Lord, to those who wait for you and your prophets will proclaim you as you deserve. Hear the prayers of your servants and of your people Israel.” This day’s liturgy brings to our consideration the limitless mercy of our God. In the first reading, from Exodus, the infidelity of the Jewish people is seen when they build a golden calf for false worship. God then decides to punish them but thanks to Moses’ intervention, he relents and does not inflict the punishment he has planned on the headstrong people of Israel. Our God is not a stern, demanding and unforgiving father who is always ready to whip his people. He is a God of compassion and understanding who is willing to listen to our prayers and supplications and forgive us our shortcomings. In the second reading, Saint Paul tells his assistant, Timothy, that Christ came to call sinners, to save them from their sins. Saint Paul experienced Christ’s mercy in his own life and thanks the Lord for his grace poured out in overflowing measure. In the Gospel, Saint Luke tells us the most famous story of forgiveness in the Bible, the story of the prodigal son, which clearly shows us that our God is a God of love and compassion and forgiveness. In it, Christ challenges us this day to be people of love, compassion and forgiveness, to be like the father, who is all forgiving, not like the elder son, who refuses to welcome his brother and to forgive him. In the course of this holy Eucharist, let us therefore pray for the grace to forgive our brothers and sinners who might have wronged us because we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Amen.
First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11 & 13-14
The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostasised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. "Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation. But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.’ So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
The first five books of the Bible constitute a unit known in Hebrew as the Torah (or the Law), and in Greek as the Pentateuchos (‘Book in five volumes’). The first of these books is Genesis, which deals with the origin of the world, of mankind and of the people of Israel; the second, from where our reading is taken, is Exodus, which recounts the Israelites’ escape from Egypt with the help of Moses; the third is Leviticus, which gives the lists of the laws of the priests of the tribe of Levi; the fourth is Numbers, which gives the list of those who came out of Egypt and wandered about in the desert, and the fifth is Deuteronomy, which recounts the main events at the end of the forty years the Jewish people spent wandering in the desert under Moses. These five books are attributed to Moses.
‘Exodus’ means “leaving” or “going out”. It deals with two mean themes: the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and their acceptance of the Covenant established by God with Moses on the Sinai. No sooner has the Covenant been established, however, than it is broken as the people begin to adore the golden calf instead of God who has brought them out of slavery. By adoring the golden calf the people have rebelled against God, turned their backs on him and broken the Covenant. God no longer calls them "my people" but rather “your people”, as he tells Moses in the reading we have just listened to.
The punishment that this sin deserves is total destruction of the people, however, through Moses’ intercession God’s mercy prevails over their offence. Unlike Abraham, who had intervened unsuccessfully on behalf of the people of Sodom (Gen 18: 22-23), Moses’ intervention receives God’s favour. Moses reminds him that he established the Covenant with them and this guarantees them God’s forgiveness. Israel is his people; he chose them and brought them out of Egypt in a mighty way; so he cannot turn his back on them now.
What lesson do I take from this reading? I understand that God forgives his people not because they deserve to be forgiven, but out of pure love and mercy for them. He is moved by Moses' intercession and refrains from punishing his people for their transgression. In this way, Moses foreshadows Christ. In the Old Testament the people were promised that another Moses would come to intercede for them. That promised mediator is none other than Jesus Christ, who does not mediate between God and any particular people, but rather between God and humanity as a whole, Jew and Gentile alike.
We too like the prodigal son in the Gospel of this day and God’s people in this first reading, join the psalmist of the responsorial psalm to beg God's forgiveness with confidence in his mercy. “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offence. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. Amen.
Second Reading: First Timothy 1:12-17
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance, and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with love that is in Christ Jesus. Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life. To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
V/ The word of the Lord.
R/ Thanks be to God.
Three of Saint Paul’s letters are called “pastoral” because they are addressed to the shepherds and the pastors of the church and they are centered on the life and teaching of the Christian community. These are the two letters to Timothy and the letter to Titus. Both Timothy and Titus were Paul’s trusted companions. In these letters, Saint Paul gives them instruction and advice about the organization and governing of the communities he had entrusted to their care. Since these epistles stress the functions of pastors and shepherds of God’s flock, the Church uses them extensively to emphasize what pastoral ministry and pastoral ministers should aspire to. All three pastoral letters are thought to have been in Ephesus in Asia Minor towards the end of the first century.
Timothy, to whom this letter is addressed, was still a young man when Paul met and converted him to the faith (Acts 16: 1-3). He accompanied Paul on his second and third missionary journeys (Acts 16:3; 19:22) and Paul sent him on many missions as his courier and delegate (Acts 19: 22; 1 Thes 3:2; 1 Cor 4: 17).
What inspired Saint Paul to write this first pastoral letter to Timothy? Corrupt teachers were trying to influence the Christian communities with false doctrines that contradicted the true Gospel that Paul and his disciples had been preaching and which had been the foundation for the faith of those communities. Timothy is given the mandate in the first lines to stay in Ephesus to insist that certain people stop teaching strange doctrines that are likely to raise doubts instead of furthering the designs of God (1: 3-4). Saint Paul’s purpose in this letter, therefore, is to encourage Timothy in his task of opposing those who were corrupting the community with false teachings.
In the passage of our meditation, Saint Paul stresses God’s mercy and forgiveness, presenting himself as a good example of a persecutor whom the Lord forgives. He was formerly opposed to anything Christian but now, thanks to God’s mercy, he is a recipient of divine grace because his actions in persecuting the Church were out of ignorance. Willful disobedience triggers God's anger but God deals gently with the ignorant and misguided. That is why God's once greatest enemy, Paul himself, has been turned into one of God's most faithful and fearless servants. Christ’s mission is to call sinners, like Paul, and turn them to great disciples of his.
Our Lord is indeed a God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger and quick to forgive. Let us therefore pray to him to forgive us our trespasses and make of us missionaries of his word to our families, Christian communities and society at large. We make our supplication through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gospel: Luke 15: 1-32.
The readings of this day’s holy Mass show us God’s boundless mercy. The infidelity and stubbornness of the Jewish people, in the first reading, provoke God’s anger, yet he is moved to forgiveness as soon as Moses intercedes for them. In the second reading, Saint Paul thanks the Lord who came to save sinners from their sins, including Paul himself, who was a great persecutor of the faith.
In the Gospel, Saint Luke relates parables about divine compassion. God does all he can to recover his children who have strayed from the right path. That is why Jesus seeks out the company of sinners, whereas the Pharisees reject them and complain that Jesus socializes with them. While the scribes and Pharisees are complaining about Jesus, the publicans and tax collectors gather round him to hear what message he has for them; and what they hear is a message of compassion, a message of forgiveness; an inclusive message, very much unlike the Pharisees, who are preaching a message of exclusiveness.
The story of the prodigal son invites us to meditate upon God’s great love for us. It is a story of a father who has two sons and loses all two: one into a far away land and the other into the wilderness of his own hostility. One leaves home in search of happiness in a foreign land only to realize that happiness is found right in his own house, with his loving and forgiving father. He only finds a barren land where he is looking for a promised land, flowing with milk and honey. He experiences failure which teaches him a valuable lesson. He comes to himself and rushes back home, seeking forgiveness from his father. The prodigal son’s fate describes the effects of sin on us. When we sin we enslave ourselves and lose the freedom to be called children of God (Rom 8:21). But when we return to the Father’s house by means of a good confession, our Father receives us with open arms, as the father in this parable does.
On the other hand, the elder son who stays home remains, like the scribes and Pharisees, a stranger to love and hostile to forgiveness. When he returns from the farm and hears music and dancing, he does not join the merry-making; instead he reacts with anger. Unlike his father, who rushes out to welcome his son, who has been lost but is now found, the elder son refuses to show a generous instinct. He sees himself as a slave: “All these years, I have slaved for you,” he tells his father angrily. He has labored in the field all these years but without joy. He has served because he has to serve and over the years, his heart has grown cold.
What a great contrast between the charitable heart of the father and the meanness of the elder son? The father in this parable is God, who loves all his children equally. He hopes that these two sons of his will accept each other and live together as brothers. The father’s attitude reflects Christ’s way of dealing with sinners and none sinners alike. He welcomes them all, Pharisee and sinner alike. Christ teaches us a lesson in tolerance, forgiveness, acceptance of the other, irrespective of religious, tribal, ethnic or racial differences. We are all sons and daughters of a father who always has his arms outstretched to receive us whenever we fall and call for his mercy.
God is goodness itself. He comes even to the most sinful man with his forgiving love. All of us have sinned and since God is always willing to forgive us our trespasses, we too must learn to forgive others theirs. That is how we get a closer experience of God. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux tells us:”What joy to remember that our Lord is just; that he makes allowances for all our shortcoming, and knows full well how weak we are. What have I to fear? Surely the God of infinite justice who pardons the prodigal son with such mercy will be just with me ‘who am always with him’?” (The Story of a Soul, chap.8). Amen.