September 12: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Readings: Ex 32:7-11,13-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32
Last Sunday Jesus told us in the Gospel that the key to the narrow gate of heaven cost everything we are and own through self-surrender and detachment. This Sunday Jesus tells us that to surrender our lives totally to Him takes a decision to go back home where our compassionate God awaits us. To take such a decision, we need to come to our senses. All three readings this Sunday underline God's unmerited love and mercy for the repentant sinner. In the first reading from Exodus, the Israelites have left God's ways to worship a golden calf. Moses pleads for God's mercy, and so the Lord listens and forgives. In the Second Reading, Paul describes himself as a repentant sinner who had wondered far, yet God's mercy was shown him through Jesus Christ. Before such a merciful God, how could David not sing of God's mercy as we find in the responsorial psalm? "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness. In your compassion wipe away my offense ... " Three times the Gospel speaks of the great joy one has in finding something that had been lost: a shepherd finds his sheep; a woman finds her valuable coin; and a father finds his son who had gone away. Jesus underlines this aspect of great joy in response to the accusations of the Scribes and Pharisees that he welcomes sinners and eats with them. The parable of the Lost son, perhaps one of the most familiar biblical stories, leads us to meet our God who is prodigally merciful and compassionate. The Pharisees and the Scribes complain that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them and therefore Jesus tells them this story. The story touches deep cords in the fiber of Christians today because it reminds them of real stories of family members who left home and headed for the big cities and disappeared there, and later returned home after many years completely broke, sick and destroyed by many types of addiction. Rembrandt, the famous Dutch artist (1606-1669) was inspired by this parable when he painted the “Return of the Prodigal Son.” The story in the Gospel is addressed to us of today, and since we know it so well, we could easily miss the real message. At the center of the story is the father.
One way of understanding the parable is through the elder son's inability to understand his father's undeserved forgiveness and generosity towards the younger son who turns up after squandering all his inheritance. The elder son could not understand how this comeback looser could now be rewarded with a banquet. Jesus tells the story in such a way that leaves us utterly surprised. The Younger son is received fully into the family at the surprise of everybody especially the elder son. That is the way our prodigal God deals with us when we go stray and come back home. God is so lavish with His mercy and compassion. The Pharisees and scribes understood they were being compared to the elder son who is resentful and rejects even his own brother "this son of yours" language, as compared to the father's welcoming language "this brother of yours". On the one hand we have a language of resentment and rejection, and on the other, a language of welcome and tremendous compassion. Three points sum up the message of this Sunday: 1) All three readings reveal the drama of human sin which is so deceptive. How often do we worship the golden calves to today's society? How often to we run away from home? Yet our God in the image of the father in the Gospel surprises us with unexpected and unmerited love and compassion when we return home; 2) The Gospel challenges us like the lost son to come to our senses and take a decision to return home; 3) We must never give up when we find ourselves away from home, because God seeks us and leads us to freely surrender and allow Him to lead us back home into the fullness of grace. God never abandons us; never gives up on us. If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Allow God to guide you back home. The choice is yours.
©2010 John S. Mbinda