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Reflections for the XXIV Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the twenty-fourth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the readings invite us to believe in a loving, patient, merciful, and forgiving God.

Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14; I Tim 1: 12-17; Lk 15: 1-32

Introduction:  The Good News Jesus preached was that God is our loving and forgiving Heavenly Father Who wants to save everyone through His Son, not a cruel, judging and punishing God. He is always in search of His lost and straying children, as Jesus explains in the three parables of today’s Gospel.

Homily starter anecdote: Prodigal son’s prodigal father: He was a rebel, a college drop-out, a carouser, and a partier. He smoked, he drank Johnnie-Walker, he was a brawler, and had more run-ins with the law than you would care to count. By his own admission, he was the quintessential prodigal son. But now he stands to succeed the most respected, admired, and perhaps famous American of the twentieth century, Billy Graham. His name is Franklin Graham. Today Franklin Graham not only has a tremendous, benevolent ministry called The Samaritan Purse, from which he meets needs all over the world, but he is now preaching the Gospel just as his dad did, to thousands and thousands of people. He is where he is today because he had a father who made sure the door was always open for his prodigal son. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture lessons summarized:  In today’s first reading, taken from Exodus, Moses is imploring a forgiving God to have mercy on the sinful people who abandoned Him and turned to idol-worship, reminding God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In today’s second reading, Paul tells Timothy that, although   he, Paul, had been the greatest of sinners as the former persecutor of the Church, God has shown great mercy towards him. Chapter 15 of Luke's Gospel has been called "the Gospel within the Gospel," because it is the distilled essence of the Good News about the mercy of our forgiving Heavenly Father. The whole chapter is essentially one distinct parable, the “Parable of the Lost and Found,” with three illustrations: the story of the lost sheep, the story of the lost coin and the story of the lost son. These parables remind us that we have a God Who welcomes sinners and forgives their sins whenever they return to Him with genuine contrition and resolution. The Hebrew term for repentance, teshuvá, means a return to God by a person who has already experienced God’s “goodness and compassion” (Ps. 51).

The first reading (Exodus 32: 1-14), explained:  The rhythm of man’s sin and God’s forgiveness pervades the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. In today’s passage, taken from Exodus, Moses is imploring God to have mercy on the sinful people who have abandoned Him and turned to idol-worship, reminding God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It concludes with a consoling passage: “So the Lord relented.” [Some Bible scholars consider this incident of idol-worship as an anachronized event: an event which took place later in Israel’s history and was then incorporated into the book of Exodus. They say the apostasy of the golden calf actually took place during the tenth century B.C.E. during the reign of Jeroboam I the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Jeroboam set up two golden calves in the sanctuaries

Second reading I Tim 1: 12-17 explained: The source for our second reading for today, 1 Timothy, is classified among the Pastoral Letters (along with 2 Timothy and Titus). In today’s passage (1:12-17), Paul tells Timothy that, although   he, Paul, had been the greatest of sinners, God showed great mercy towards him. Paul’s sin was self-righteousness:  he had been a zealot ready to persecute anyone thought to be doctrinally unsound.  It was Paul, then called Saul, who, approving the actions of St. Stephen’s stoners, had watched over their cloaks.  In his letter, Paul reminds young Bishop Timothy of how God in His mercy changed Paul’s mind and pardoned him.  “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.” Paul acknowledges the fact that he had wandered from the truth and rejoices that God first found him, then commissioned him to preach the Good News of God’s unconditional love, calling every prodigal home. Like John Newton, the eighteenth-century English composer of Amazing Grace, Paul declared his past openly. . . “I once was lost” . . . “I once was a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance” (v. 13). Calling himself, “the worst of sinners,” and, “an extreme case,” (vv 15, 16), Paul invites us to marvel at the mercy of God and to find hope and help for dealing with our own need for conversion. [Some Bible scholars suggest 1 Timothy may have been written toward the end of the first or early in the second Christian century by a disciple of Paul who was familiar with his mentor’s teachings and concerns.]

Gospel exegesis:  The parables of a loving and forgiving God: In the first two parables, we are shown a God seeking sinners, and in the third we see a God for giving and receiving sinners.  As a group, the parables tell us about God's generosity in   seeking and receiving the sinner and the joy of the sinner in being received by a forgiving and loving God. All three parables of Luke 15 end with a party or a celebration of the finding.  Since the self-righteous Pharisees, who accused Jesus of befriending publicans and sinners, could not believe that God would be delighted at the conversion of sinners, Jesus told them the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd's joy on its discovery, the parable of the lost coin and the woman’s joy when she found it, and the parable of the lost and returned son and his Father’s joy.  Besides presenting a God who is patiently waiting for the return of the sinners, ready to pardon them, these parables teach us of God’s infinite love and mercy.  These three parables defend Jesus’ alliance with sinners and respond to the criticism by certain Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ frequent practice of eating with and welcoming tax-collectors and sinners and of his receptivity to the lost among God’s people.

The lost sheep: Shepherding in Judaea was a hard and dangerous task.  Pasture was scarce, and thorny scrub jungles with wild animals and vast desert areas were common, posing a constant threat to the wandering sheep.  But the shepherds were famous for their dedicated, sacrificial service, perpetual vigilance and readiness for action.  Hence, the shepherd was the national symbol of Divine Providence and self-sacrificing love in Israel.  Two or three shepherds might be personally responsible for the sheep owned by several families in a village.   If any sheep was missing, one of the shepherds would go in search of it, sending the other shepherds home with the flock of sheep. The whole village would be waiting for the return of the shepherd with the lost sheep and would receive him with shouts of joy and of thanksgiving.  That is the picture Jesus draws of God.  God is as glad when a lost sinner is found as a shepherd is when a strayed sheep is brought home.  Men may give up hope of reclaiming a sinner, but not so God.  God loves those people who never stray from Him,  but He expresses even greater joy when a lost sinner comes home.

The Lost Coin: The coin in question in this parable was a silver drachma. Since the houses were very dark, with one little circular window, and since the floor was made of beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rushes, it was practically impossible to find such a tiny coin. But the woman tried her best to get it back because   it was worth more than a whole day's wage for a workingman in Palestine.  If the coin was one of the ten silver coins attached by a silver chain to the traditional headdress of a married woman, it was as important to her as the wedding ring in our society.   Thus, we can understand the woman’s joy when at last she saw the glint of the elusive coin.  God, said Jesus, is like that.  The joy of God and of all the angels when one sinner comes home is like the joy of a woman who loses her most precious possession with a value far beyond money and then finds it again.  We believe in the seeking love of God because we see that Love Incarnate in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to seek and to save that which was lost.  

The lost son:  This has been called the greatest short story in the world.  It speaks about the deep effects of sin, the self-destruction of hatred and the infinite mercy of God. This is a story of love, of conflict, of deep heartbreak, and of ecstatic joy. The scene opens on a well-to-do Jewish family. With the immaturity of a spoiled brat the younger son demands impudently of his gracious father, "Give me the portion of goods that falls to me." Under Jewish law, when a father divided his property between two sons, the elder son had to receive two-thirds and the younger one-third (Dt 21:17). In Jesus' parable, the younger son sells out his share of the inheritance and then squanders the money in a faraway city.  The land was sacred to the Jewish people because it was the Promised Land given to the Chosen People. Hence, each bit of land was considered holy, and no Israelite could lawfully sell his property (Lev. 25:23, I Kg. 21). Ancient “social security” basically consisted in sons farming their father’s land and taking care of their parents until their death. Thus, in selling his land, the prodigal has sold his parents’ social security.

The conversion, return, and confession: When he becomes bankrupt, the prodigal son ends up feeding pigs, a task that was forbidden to a Jew (Leviticus 11:7; 14:8).  Having sunk to the depths of economic, spiritual and moral depravity, the prodigal finally “comes to his senses” (v. 17).  So he decides to return to his father, to ask his forgiveness and to receive the status of a hired servant.   When he sees his son returning, the ever-watchful father runs to him and gives him a cordial welcome along with a new robe, a ring and new shoes. Symbolically, the robe stands for honor; the ring for authority (the signet ring gave a person the power of attorney) and the shoes for the son's place as a member of the family (slaves did not wear shoes).   The father also throws a great feast killing the “fatted calf’ reserved for the Passover feast so that all may rejoice at the wanderer's return.   

The “Prodigal Father” and the self-righteous elder brother:  The parable illustrates the wonder of God’s love and unconditional forgiveness. God seeks out the sinner and forgives him unconditionally. Jesus recounts the story of the elder brother as his response to the accusation by the self-righteous Pharisees that he was the friend of sinners.  The elder brother represents the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see a sinner destroyed than saved.  He reflects the Pharisees' attitude that obedience to Mosaic Law is a duty, not a loving service.  Like the Pharisees, the elder brother lacks sympathy for his sibling and levels accusations against him. As a self-righteous person, he refuses to forgive. Thus, his grudge becomes a sin in itself, resulting in his self-exclusion from the banquet of his father’s love.  That is what we all do when we sin.  We exclude ourselves from the banquet of God’s love

Life messages: 1) Live everyday as merciful God’s forgiven children: Let us begin every day praying for the strengthening anointing of the Holy Spirit to do God’s holy will by doing good and avoiding evil, by trying to live in God’s presence everywhere. Before we go to bed at night, let us examine our conscience and confess to God our sins and failures of the day, asking His pardon and forgiveness.  Let us resolve to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we have fallen into serious sins. Let us continue to ask for God’s forgiveness before we receive Jesus in Holy Communion during the Holy Mass. Thus, let us live a peaceful life as forgiven prodigal children, getting daily reconciled with God our merciful and forgiving Father.

2) Let us ask God for the courage and good will to extend God’s forgiveness to others:  Let us realize the truth that our brothers and sisters deserve and expect from us the same compassion, kindness and forgiveness which we receive from our merciful God. As forgiven prodigals, we must be forgiving people as Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us pray also for God's Divine mercy on all of us who have fallen away from God’s grace.  Let us open our eyes to see and ears to hear that Jesus is welcoming us back home!

3) We need the Father’s Compassion: Some of us take the prodigal son as a role model; go astray at will and comeback to be welcomed back.  Some others are ‘good’ like the elder brother; not willing to forgive. Once we have returned to the Father and had been welcomed and accepted, we must emulate the love and forgiveness as shown by father in the story. As heirs to our Father we must practice love and forgiveness for all in need.  Jesus is not asking us to be like either of the two brothers.  Let us try and be like the father in the story. “Be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.” Be compassionate as my Father.” (Joe Vempeny) (Fr. Antony Kadavil)

12 September 2019, 09:00