Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary time

September 11, 2022

Sister Jan Ginzkey, OSB shares a reflection on the scripture readings: Exodus 32:7-11,13-14; Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17-19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

The responsorial psalm petitions God. “Have mercy on me, O God., in your kindness.” “My sacrifice, O God is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”

All the readings in scripture today speak of God’s mercy and forgiveness. In Exodus,

Moses boldly talks God out of punishing the stiff-necked people. The Old Testament or Hebrew scriptures tell of an angry God who is capable of extreme moods and rash threats. Yet Moses has a very personal relationship with God. Moses is confident that God is merciful and will forgive the people for building an idol to worship. In a short time, they had forgotten how God had shown power and control, freeing them from slavery in Egypt. They rebelled because they wanted instant relief and an end to their wandering.

St. Paul writes to Timothy with honest humility. Paul acknowledges his past. He claims, “I was a blasphemer, a persecutor and arrogant.” In many ways he was acting the same way those Israelites behaved. Paul was literally knocked off his horse. He had to be led into Damascus. He learned to appreciate the wonder of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Once Paul experienced God’s love and mercy he was compelled to share the good news to all the people he encountered.

I can remember several times in my life where I’ve said God had to hit me with a two by four to get my attention. It was then that I could listen to God’s message to me. It was then that I could recognize my arrogance and accept that I could not manage my life. I

needed to humbly ask God to take over and guide me. Just like Paul did.

The Gospel has Jesus telling three parables. In the two short parables at the beginning of the Gospel, Luke has Jesus show how much God delights and wants to celebrate with us. Jesus’ God is not the fire and brimstone or angry and punishing God depicted in the Hebrew scriptures.

I am not a shepherd, but I can’t imagine leaving ninety-nine sheep unprotected while traipsing off to look for the one who wandered away. I could imagine if I had a child at the mall and suddenly realized he/she was no longer at my side that I would leave whatever I had intended to purchase and really look frantically in all the near aisles. I would also ask others to help me find the lost one. Finding the child, I would be so relieved and also angry that he/she had wandered off. I don’t know that I would carry the child home and have a party for him/her. Would you?

In our consumer and materialistic society, it is hard to imagine scouring the house for a single coin. What is important enough for you to search diligently for? I remember one time when I was visiting my brother’s family, my brother generously told me I could take the boys to the park and get a treat on the way home. Since the park was a distance away, my brother left the car and keys for me. When we were all ready to go to the park, I went into the kitchen and searched the counters and drawers without finding the car keys. Both boys and I searched all the places we thought the car keys could be. No luck! I had to tell the boys we couldn’t go to the park or get a treat.

When my brother came home the boys of course told him they had not gone to the park.

I explained that we searched but couldn’t find the car keys. My brother, who is six foot three laughed. He calmly took the keys off the top of the refrigerator! At five foot three, I could not even see the top of the refrigerator! We all laughed, and my brother took us out for ice cream that evening.

Most of you probably know the last parable as “The Prodigal Son.” That is how I learned it in grade school from the Sisters. As an adult I prefer to say it is the “Forgiving or Merciful Father.”  Bernadette Farrell describes what I believe the father could have said to the disgraced and humbled son. I can hear him say, “I forgive you for what you have done. You can start over. Begin again. I’ll be there with you. I know you can change your ways.” Take a moment, close your eyes. Imagine and listen to God say any or all of those words to you. (Pause)

I want you to keep your eyes closed and place yourself in the role of the one coming home. See how tattered your clothes are. Your shoes have holes in them. You are dirty,

exhausted, and starving. You’ve prepared what to say, “I’ve squandered your gifts. I am ashamed. I am not worthy to be part of your family.”

Suddenly you hear a shout of joy. Looking up you see God, your Father, running toward you, arms outstretched a huge smile on His face and tears of joy in His eyes. God brushes aside your contrite words. God embraces you in a bear hug. He tells those who have come out because of the commotion to bring all the signs of really belonging to the family; a fine set of clothes, new shoes, a ring to remind everyone of the covenant made at your Baptism. God showers you with love, acceptance, and throws a great party for you. Bask in the warmth of God’s embrace. Feel the love enfolding you. See the delight and joy God has because you are home.

This is the God Jesus wants each of us to know. I pray that you accept God’s invitation and that you realize how special you are and how unconditionally loved you are by your God.