Daily Reflection
September 12th, 2004
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

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 tangibility.

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 land.

“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.

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