We are invited by the liturgy this week to rejoice and celebrate
two basic Christian realities. Our fallen nature wants to resist God
and cling to a more tangible security. In the midst of this tendency and
our acting out this rebellion, we have a divine mediator or Savior.
So in this good news/bad news tension we are offered a picture of our truth
which can be embarrassing and a picture of compassion which, while humbling,
is also exalting. We pray to receive both truths and for the grace to keep
allowing God to find us and allow God to love us in the very midst of our
unfaithful idol worship.
As always, we are encouraged to forgive our sisters and brothers, older or
younger, as we ourselves have been forgiven. Injuries are so personal and
so hard for us to allow the injurer to be set free. We have to soften our
sense of strict - very strict - justice.
Moses has gone up on the mountain to converse with God. There must have been
many loop holes and legal issues to discuss, because the people waiting for
his return grew impatient. They turn to Aaron to make them a statue or image
for them to worship. So the people turn in their gold ear rings and other
jewelry from which Aaron fashions a bull, which was the usual symbol of the
times for the power of the almighty. For the people of Israel, faith needed
What we hear in our First Reading is the end of the divine conversation.
God gives Moses a mission with a wrathful message. God disowns Israel telling
Moses that they are his, not God’s people any more, whom he, Moses, brought
out of Egypt. God has seen and heard enough about how they have forgotten
so quickly who it was who freed them from slavery. Then God takes the promise
made to Abraham concerning his descendents’ being the great nation. The great
nation will now come from and through Moses.
Moses makes a response of remembering. He begins by slipping in that God
is the Lord of “your own people.” Then Moses clinches the debate by invoking
God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Israel to whom God had promised lands
and fertility. Moses puts God in a corner. God’s wrath verses God’s fidelity.
Fidelity wins in God’s relenting. Moses is more than the “law giver,” but
the mediator and reminder. God can not be in a contradiction. For God to
be God, God must be faithful which fidelity has many faces; here it is the
face of mercy, but it is really fidelity to God’s self and so to God’s people.
We have a three-story Gospel to enjoy and ponder. The previous chapter, from
which we have been listening these past weekends, was centered in the dining
room of one of the religious leaders. Jesus has been quite direct in addressing
parables to the Pharisees about just who can be of the new “kingdom.” Jesus
has cured on the Sabbath, insulted his host and the guests for whom they
invite to dine and how they love the exalted places.
We hear the entire next chapter which is a continuation of Jesus’ reversing
the expected and predictable. The scene is set in the early verses. Tax collectors
and sinners are attracted to Jesus and he to them. This is not the expected
thing for any religious leader or prophet. The Pharisees and scribes complain
so in response Jesus tells them three insulting and unpredictable stories
or parables. They are about the lost being found. A coin, a single sheep,
a profligate son are found resulting in great rejoicing on the part of the
finders. The coin was misplaced and the woman searched high and wide to find
it. The coin has no mind of its own.
The sheep, having some personal interest and desire, not in keeping with
the shepherd, wanders off and so too the shepherd in search. When he finds
the lost and independent sheep, he rejoices too. The son in the third story
has quite a mind of his own and desires equally self-centered and demanding.
He is acting in as much freedom as he has and so the father allows his son
to consider him, his father, as dead by taking the part of the inheritance
which would be his. The father allows him his freedom to depart from his
“Coming to his senses” is such a graceful phrase. The son is sitting with
the pigs. This story is within the Jewish detestation for pigs since the
time of the Maccebees. His sense of sight, touch and smell all tell him he
has made a bad choice. His interior sense tells him he is in slavery and
not in his homeland. He decides to say the truth to his father which he has
told to himself.
The rest of the story is history. The father welcomes the son home, ah, but
the elder son, there is the well-sharpened point aimed right at the complaining
elder Pharisees. The elder son who has always been so faithful does not allow
his father’s compassion into his experience of the brother’s return. There
is no rejoicing there.
Jesus is saying to the Pharisees what the father is saying to the elder son.
It echoes what God finally says to Moses. Mercy is God’s fidelity not a judicial
decision based on religious predictable conformity. The People of Israel
had rebelled, the one sheep and the younger son had wandered, but the finders
are the keepers of faithfulness. The tax collectors and sinners, no doubt,
enjoyed greatly their listening to the parables and watching the Pharisees
squirm. Jesus has more conversion work to do with these of course which continues
in the remaining chapters of Luke’s Gospel. For now, we sinners and elders
struggle to believe that Jesus is more merciful towards us than we are to
ourselves. Jesus is more forgiving than we are towards others. Our conversions
continue in the remaining chapters of our own Gospels.