C Cycle – 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time 19
Lk. 15: 1-32
The reading from the Old Testament with Moses on Mt. Sinai conversing with God face to face is one of the most familiar of the Old Testament readings. It is the story that follows the fall of Adam and one where God gives us a revelation of Himself as merciful, loving, gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness. In it and in the rest of the Old Testament we see the plan of God’s to restore us, His greatest creation, to our place as sons and daughters. God did not give up on us but set out a plan to restore us and it finds it completion in Jesus Christ.
On Mt. Sinai God and Moses are conversing face to face but the Israelites have quickly forgotten all the blessings of God during their short journey to Mt. Sinai. They have forgotten their years of slavery, the parting of the Red Sea, the mana, the water to satisfy their thirst and their victory over Amalek. They have decided to conform to their neighbors, the Canaanites and fashion a “golden calf” to worship. The golden calf was the Canaanite symbol of fertility, virility, power and prosperity.
Think about this for a moment, God chose them and set them free from slavery and oppression to bring them to a land where they would live in His presence. Instead of waiting to discover how they would live that life, while God was laying out His plan to Moses, they decide to take matters in their own hands. Because of this sin God declares to Moses his intent to wipe them off the face of the earth and only because Moses intercedes does God relent.
It is no wonder that today the Church in its wisdom gives us that Old Testament reading and connects it with the reading of the prodigal son. Those two readings give us a complete revelation of God and how much He will forgive. We also see in these two readings exactly how sin deceives us. Sin comes to us and lies to us telling us how good things will be as we deservedly reap the reward of our own hard work and the gift of creation. You would think we would have learned from the scripture stories the things we believe will bring us the most pleasure always leave us empty and wanting more.
These two stories are given to us not to entertain us but to wake us up. Perhaps one of the reasons we fail to be impacted by these readings is because we approach them as stories instead of wisdom from God to reveal the way to live according to His design.
These two stories give us a clear insight into the Old and the New Covenant. In the story of the Exodus we see a partial revelation of God. I say partial because in the Old Testament we have a glimpse of God and His plan to restore us.
But in the New Covenant we have a full revelation given to us by life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What people see in the Old Testament is God responding to sin with anger as we see in the story of the flood, where only Noah and his family survive His wrath. God’s response to the fashioning of the “golden calf” was to declare He would destroy the Israelites and only Moses’ intercession saved them from death. But God does not desire to punish for His revelation consistently in the Old Testament and the New was to offer mercy if we only come back to Him. Because that message of repentance is so clear in the Old Testament, we erroneously believe repentance is the key to obtaining God’s mercy.
In the story of the prodigal we see the impact of God’s desire to offer us forgiveness and mercy. He embraces this prodigal son despite the law which dictated the prodigal should be stoned to death because of his sins. The Father never looks at the son’s sin, never refers to it but instead He ignores the sins committed in the past focuses on the present. Not because of the son but because of who the Father is. The opposite reaction is given to us by the older brother who holds the younger brother’s sins against him. He demands the young son be punished while the Father offers mercy.
We need to keep something in mind as we listen to the story of the prodigal and in the story of the “golden calf.” In both stories the sin is obvious and grievous. Yet those deserving punishment never repent for the sins they have committed. Yes, I know the prodigal says, “I have sinned” but we know more is involved than true repentance. The story of the prodigal gives us more insights about this aspect of God’s mercy. His motivation to return to the Father was not because he is sorry it was because he finally hit bottom. All the money was gone, he was hungry and cold and knew slaves in his father’s house were living better than he was. He does admit to the Father he had sinned, but it was only because he needed to do so in order to eat.
God is making it clear to us that mercy is unmetered grace constantly flowing to us without any requirement from us except we receive it. We cannot do anything to earn it, but we do have to make that first step to receiving it by walking toward Him and standing in His presence allowing Him to embrace us, clothe us in righteousness and flood us with love.
The key for us is to grasp the concept the Father does not care about our reason for returning, He does not care if our contrition is from the heart or from a desire for gain. Look at the Father’s actions with the prodigal and you will see He does not pay attention to the words he practiced as he walked back to the Father’s house. Instead, the Father rejoices in the son’s return, he is overjoyed and wants to celebrate with everyone in the household.