Ordinary 24th Sunday
Ordinary 24th Sunday
Ex. 32: 7-11, 13-14 1Tim. 1: 12-17 Lk. 15: 1-32
A repentant heart ever enjoys and celebrates the forgiveness and mercy of God.
Forgiveness of God:
There was a Christian who committed a particular grave sin. After feeling bad about it, he went to a priest to confess it. The priest listened to him and advised him not to repeat it, since it was grave in nature. However he relapsed and committed the same sin once again. Again he came to the same priest for confession. The priest once again admonished him. It happened a few more times. Since he committed the same grave sin repeatedly, the priest got bit annoyed and told him, “You are not listening to my advice and so I am not going to forgive your sins.” At this point, the story goes, there was a loud cry from the cross and Jesus, lifting his right hand, absolved the penitent of his sin, and told the priest, “It is not you who shed blood for him.”
One of the repeated and recurring themes in the Bible is that God is all-merciful and ever-forgiving. We have innumerable passages in the Bible to this effect. “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is. 43: 25). “I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Is. 44: 22). “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31: 34). “He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7: 19). “For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of distress” (Sir. 2: 11).
Not only the Bible, but also the lives of innumerable saintly figures bear witness to abundance of God’s love and mercy. When the parishioners praised St. John Mary Vianney about the deluge of sinners, flooded to his place, seeking forgiveness, he would answer, “It is not the sinner who returns to God begging forgiveness; rather, it is God himself who runs after sinners causing them to return to Him.” Smiley Blanton, a last century American Psychiatrist, says, “If people really believed the core of the story of the Prodigal Son, namely, God’s loving forgiveness is infinitely greater than any mistake we can make, all of his patients, paralysed with guilt feelings, would walk away free and healed.”
Dialectic of God’s Justice and Love:
God has got two faces: justice and love. These two dimensions of God are dialectically at work. Justice of God demands that a person is punished for one’s sins. On the other hand, love of God brings forgiveness to a person. Since God is both just and love, He chastises us and at the same time consoles us. This dialectic between justice and love of God both confronts and comforts us. It confronts us because we are demanded to come out of our sinfulness. It comforts us because we are assured of God’s abundant mercy. If this dialectic is not properly understood, then we will run into difficulty. Too much of focus on God’s justice will make us believe that God is a judge and punishing, it would create a lot of fear and guilt in us. Too much of focus on God’s love will make us take everything for granted and indulge in our sinfulness.
All the three readings of today present this healthy dialectic of God’s justice and love. Yahweh was angry at the apparent and crude infidelity of the Israelites. He wanted to punish them. However His love enabled Him to forgive them (first reading). It was because of justice that Jesus chastised Saul with the question ‘Why do you persecute me?’ However Jesus’ love for Paul filled him with abundance of grace and made him the apostle to the Gentiles (second reading). Justice of God made the wayward younger son to go through a process of purification (nothing to eat, abandonment of friends etc.). Love of God made him to be accepted by his father with greater love (gospel).
Repentance: A Requirement:
Though God is all-merciful and is ever ready to absolve us of all our sins, in order to experience God’s forgiveness, repentance is a requirement on our part. An unrepentant person does not experience God’s forgiveness. The truth is whether we ask Him or not, God, out of His abundance of love, is always forgiving us. However this forgiveness of God becomes ours and begin to bear fruit in us only when we are ready to go through a process of repentance. As rain is of no use to an uncultivated land, so also God’s forgiveness to an unrepentant person. That is the reason all the three readings talk about repentance. Moses, as the representative of the Israelites, pleads Yahweh to forgive the sins of the Israelites. It is also clear that Paul and the younger son felt bad about their past and went through a process of conversion.
There is a story in Talmud, the central source of Jewish religious law and Jewish theology. There was a king who had only one son. He was so naughty, fought with his father and ran away from the palace to a distant country. There he happened to meet a friend of his father, who advised him to return to his father. The son responded, “It is too distant. I can’t make it back.” When the king came to know about it, he sent a messenger with the note “It is true that you are much away from me. Travel back as much as you can. The rest I will cover. I will come and pick you up.”
Because of our sins, we are far away from God. Though God is after us to reclaim us, He expects us to cover certain distance by ourselves. That is what repentance is all about.