1st Reading – Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
In this story we find Moses foreshadowing the role of Jesus as a mediator before God on our behalf. Jesus like Moses prays on the cross: “Father, forgive them.” Here is a God who is willing to forgive even though his anger is great at the evil that has been done. And, of course, we believe that Jesus shows us the fullness of the real God – the visible image of the invisible God. (Reginald Fuller, “ Scripture in Depth,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
This event is an example of how religions can confuse the voice of the people with the voice of God. Any religion has the capacity to produce a “calf” to meet the needs of the people who are in opposition to the will of God. Need does not create religion. Although Aaron had ordered the making of the calf in a dubious effort to salvage the faith of his people, all that resulted was a compromise that threatened the integrity of their relationship with God, (Word & Worship, Birmingham, p. 472). How often do we place our needs in the way of God’s will? Maybe more often than we think. Yet our God listens to us. Moses intercedes for his people, and God hears. Compare this dubious effort with the effort of the prodigal son in the Gospel we will soon hear.
Notice too how God tells Moses they are “your people”, like an angry mother telling a father what happened with the children while he was away at work. Does the angry mother’s love ever diminish for her children? She is there for them anyway and loves them completely, no matter what they do. How much more God is.
2nd Reading – 1 Timothy 1: 12-17
The Pauline authorship of this letter and the rest of the so-called pastoral letters (2 Timothy, Titus) have been disputed since the 19th century. Regardless, the letter is emphasizing that Saul-Paul was like the elder brother of the gospel story who had been desirous of punishing the ‘brothers’ he deemed to be unfaithful and heretical. By the glorious grace of the God he found in the Risen Christ, he recognized the error of his ways. He began knowing God in an entirely new way, a way that leads to new life, not judgment and death. (Celebration, Sept. 2001)
How does this passage lead us into the parables of lost sheep, lost coin, lost son?
“There is something good in the worst of us and something bad in the best of us.” We may not be Paul, a former blasphemer and ‘thug’ – we may not be worshipping molten calves in a frenzy – but we can all be overwhelmingly grateful for the merciful love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Repentance is always the start of good news. (Kavanaugh, “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu)
St. Therese of Lisieux, “The one thing which is not open to envy is the lowest place. Here alone, therefore, there is neither vanity nor affliction of spirit. Yet sometimes we find ourselves wishing for what dazzles. In that hour let us in all humility take our place among the imperfect, and look upon ourselves as little souls who at every instant need to be upheld by the goodness of God.”
The Gospel – Luke 15: 1-32
Here is the whole chapter from Luke on the ‘lost and found’. It is sometimes called ‘the gospel within the gospel’ because it so profoundly shows us the essence of the good news we find in Christ Jesus. What do we find good in these parables? What do you find challenging?
From Living Liturgy, 2004: This parable reveals the dying and rising of the paschal mystery at work. The prodigal son is brought to repentance because he is in dire need; he is “dying from hunger.” There is nothing he does to deserve the father’s response except return. Yet, his decision to repent (turn from death) is met with warm, welcoming love and feasting – at least from the father. For all of us, the invitation to repent is always there – to turn from dying-ways to new life and feasting. What can bring us – and the elder son – to the feasting?
Notice also, that sin is ‘going away to a distant land’ – it is about losing who and where we are called to be. Repentance is about ‘coming back to our senses.’ Sin is an alienation from ourselves, like the son who no longer deserves to be called his father’s son. Sin affects our relationships – with the father – and with others (the elder son). But in the father, we find a love that bridges the gap.
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu: In this culture fathers were greatly discouraged from distributing inheritance before their death. The younger son acts very shamefully by effectively wishing his father dead. The elder son is no better. He makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as the culture demanded. When he ‘comes back to himself’ and repents, the younger son is willing to become a servant and take the rejection and physical abuse that the village will heap on him for his shameful behavior. In this, he does show some measure of honor. But then the father acts totally out of cultural character. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder) the village gauntlet to meet the boy. He publicly forgives the son by kissing him, giving him the best robe (which certainly would be the father’s), putting a ring on his finger (a sign of trust), and sandals on his feet (a sign of a free man not a slave). Killing the fatted calf means that the whole village will be invited to come and accept this son and celebrate. (This size calf could feed 100 people.) And then, what does the elder son do? Instead of honoring his father’s wishes, he publicly insults and humiliates his father. Yet, the father also goes out to him (another shameful thing for the father to do). The parable ends here with the father pleading with his son . . . what did the elder son do? What would you do?