As a little child, I was adventurous like most male kids of my age. One fateful day my uneasy hands got hold of my dad’s pair of eyeglasses and before seconds could enter into minutes I had a fall while running about and it got broken. My dad entered the sitting room as this drama was going on and at the sight of him, I started crying. I was crying not because of the fall nor the broken glasses but on account of the punishment I anticipated for being restive and destructive. I saw my dad coming close to me and my cry increased and I started pointing an accusing finger on my legs as if they caused the fall and the resultant breaking of the pair of eyeglasses.
I was still thinking about what could be the nature and intensity of my punishment when my dad lifted me up carefully making sure that I was safe from possible abrasions from the tiny fragments of glasses. He carefully placed me on a chair and asked me to stay there until he packed the broken glasses. The tone of his voice calmed me a bit and I started crying lesser and lesser though still wondering if that was all. After packing the fragments he brought water for me to drink while examining my tiny legs to make sure there were no hidden wounds. Thereafter, he told me not to play with his glasses and to stop being restless. I became calm.
Have you ever received mercy instead of a merited punishment? Have you ever received compassion instead of blame? Have you ever received a caring hand instead of a canning hand for a punishable offence? My narration here is a far lesser act of mercy than what we receive from God after our inexorable and countless episodes of disconnection, waywardness, and sinfulness. In spite of our fallenness, God continues to extend a reconciliatory invitation to us (Isaiah 1:18).
In the First Reading today (Ex.32:7-11,13-14), we are presented with the image of God in a very “bad mood”. God said to Moses, among other things, “Go down; for YOUR PEOPLE, whom YOU BROUGHT OUT of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves…” Here we can establish that the depravity of the people of Israel disconnected them totally from God to the extent that He temporarily disowned them calling them the people of Moses whom he (Moses) brought out of the land of Egypt. Does that make a sense?
The above shows us that sin dissociates us from God. It changes the nature and character of our relationship with God. We are aware of the fact that before this episode God promised the people that He will be their God and they will be His people and that He will deliver them from the burdens of the Egyptians and bring them to land He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Ex.6:7-8).
Continuing, God told Moses that He intends to destroy the people of Israel completely on account of their idolatry, but would raise another generation from Moses. This statement could have been a very tempting one for Moses. For any selfish and self-righteous person that could have presented an opportunity to establish a remarkable dynasty, after all, he has been in the forefront of the match into the promised land.
Instead of using the above opportunity to establish himself, Moses begged God to pardon the stiff-necked people reminding him of the promise He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He will multiply his descendants.
We are told that God “repented” of the evil He thought to do to His people. It will be important to note here that God’s repentance here does not suggest that he sinned in the first place. It actually means relenting, retracing or turning back from an initial plan. It all means that God turned around from the plan to destroy the people and instead offered them His compassionate mercy (Psalm 103:8).
We could take some reflective moments to ask few questions: “Did God actually mean to destroy His people and begin a new generation of people with Moses? Did He actually forget (and needed to be reminded of) His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Attempting to answer, we could say that God knew what He intended to do before speaking to Moses. Moses had to defend his integrity before God. Oftentimes such situations are also moments of faith and integrity trials.
In the Gospel today (Luke 15:1-32), our Lord Jesus Christ made a case in favour of sinners against the self-righteous disposition of the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw him in the midst of tax collectors and sinners and they judged him for being with them and eating with them. For the Pharisees, the world is divided into two with the righteous on the one side and sinners on the other side. For them, no sinners should repent! This is stark ignorance.
Considering the attitude of the Pharisees to sinners, our Lord Jesus Christ took some time to disclose to their closed minds what he actually came to do on earth, namely to seek out the lost and to call sinners to repentance. In his usual way, our Lord used some parables to deliver his message. A brief look at these parables and how they relate to us will help us in this reflection.
1) The Lost Sheep: Sheep are known to flock together. They also follow the Shepherd wherever he leads, unlike goats. From the parable, we are told that among a hundred sheep one was lost and the Shepherd left the ninety-nine by themselves in the wilderness and went in search of the one that was lost. It will ordinarily appear preposterous to the imagination for someone to leave ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness to search for one that was lost.
Unusual as the above may sound, that is actually how our merciful God goes in search of us when we are lost in sin. The word of God made us understand that God is not interested in the death of any sinner (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). We are precious to God especially when we live and die in Him (Psalm 116:15). No well-meaning workman would find pleasure in destroying what s/he has made.
2) The Lost Coin: What is very remarkable in this parable is the urgency with which the woman who lost one coin out of ten searched for the lost one in the night. She could not wait until the morning breaks to look for the coin. Why the urgency? It could be that any delay in getting the coin immediately may lead to a total loss.
Viewing this from our standpoint, it is said that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and to die in sin is to die twice; the second death (Rev.21:8). God is not lax about our sinfulness he goes out frantically searching for us before it becomes too late.
3) The Lost Son (a.k.a the prodigal son): This parable took a greater part of the Gospel Reading today. One major reason could be that while the others referred to the loss of non-humans, this parable referred to the loss of a human being created in the image and likeness of God; in other words, a soul that is dear to God.
We are generally familiar with the narrative. A man had two sons, the younger son approached the father and asked for his own share of his inheritance and his father divided his inheritance into two and gave him one part and he travelled to a FAR COUNTRY and squandered the money and began to live in penury when all was lost and the country experienced famine. One day HE CAME TO HIS SENSES and decided to go back to his father to become a slave, not a son anymore.
When the father saw the son coming from afar, he ran to him welcomed him and prepared a big banquet in his honour. When the older son came back and learnt about his father’s kindness and mercy over his wasteful brother he became angry and refused to enter the house. His father came and begged him but he was adamant and accused his father of being unnecessarily kind and merciful to someone who does not deserve mercy due to his waywardness and who deserved eternal punishment.
There are indeed many issues and lessons within the narrative but for the sake of brevity and relevance we shall be looking and four important elements: the journey to the far country, coming to senses, the judgement of the older brother and the compassion and mercy of the father.
- a) Journey to the far country: The far country as mentioned here refers to our journey into sin. Sin actually means a departure from God. In the far country of sin we are disconnected from God and consequently, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Nothing lasts in the far country and that was why abundance turned into lack for the young man. The far country provides a way that eventually leads to death (Proverbs 14:12).
- b) Coming to the senses: This is the greatest thing that can happen to anyone. Coming to one’s senses means realising our disconnection from God and how far we have wandered deep into the far or distant country. This disposition of coming to his senses brought the young man to the point of confession: “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him “father I have sinned against heaven and before you ; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants”. And this was actually what he did.
- c) The judgement of the older son: The older son was very angry with both his father and his younger brother. For him the younger brother’s case is closed. He was gone and should go forever with his waywardness. He was not happy about his father’s acceptance of someone who was once lost. If this older son was in Moses’ position when God planned to destroy the people for their sin he would have begged him to do so immediately. At the end of the narrative, the older son became the one in the far or distant country as he refused to come into the house. He became the real lost son no longer his brother.
- d) The compassionate mercy of the father: We are told that the father saw the younger son coming from a distant and ran up to meet with him. This is an indication to the fact that he had been on the look out for him to come back. This is how God is constantly waiting for us to come back from our respective far countries. The father did not mention or recall any other misdeeds of the son. This is how God receives us when we come back to him. The letter to the Hebrews (8:12) says: “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”
Today we are challenged by the younger son to come to our senses and make that journey back to God. We are also called upon not to repeat the undesirable attitudes of the Pharisees and the older brother who are quick to judge and condemn. We should like St. Paul in the Second Reading (1 Tim.1:12-17) realise and accept the fact that we are sinners and in need of God’s mercy.
Do have a great week ahead and may God’s mercy meet you.