24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Exodus furnishes this weekend’s first reading. As the name suggests, this book of the Old Testament recalls the flight, or exodus, of the Hebrew people from Egypt, where they had been slaves.
Despite the passage of so many centuries, and the coming of so very many momentous events, for Jews yet today central to everything is this escape from slavery. The Exodus did not occur as a result of the people’s own strategy or good luck.
Rather, God made it possible. He repeatedly frustrated and subdued the Egyptian overlords, including the mighty pharaoh himself. God sent Moses as the people’s leader. Through Moses, God guided the people out of Egypt and onward toward the Promised Land.
It was no easy journey. At times angry, often bewildered, the people grumbled against God. They even rebelled against God, resulting in severe chastisements. However, the merciful God forgave them.
The role of Moses was to lead the people, upbraid them when they defied God, and always call them to obey God and to trust in God. He presented them before God. In this reading, God hears the prayerful words of Moses, pleading for the people. Answering this appeal, God sets punishment aside.
For its second reading, the Church presents the First Epistle to Timothy. Regarded as an early bishop of the Church and revered by the first Christians, Timothy was a disciple of the great Apostle Paul. This epistle recalls Paul’s own vocation to follow Jesus. It necessarily recalls God’s own mercy to Paul, since he once had persecuted the Christians. Indeed, when he was converted, many Christians doubted the authenticity of his conversion and still feared Paul. Therefore, Paul insisted that his Christianity was genuine, and that he truly was an apostle. It was his vocation to bear God’s mercy to the world.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, a lengthy reading in which Pharisees notice that Jesus associates with sinners. Such conduct hardly was acceptable among pious Jews at the time of Jesus. In reply, Jesus uses several examples, one of them returning to a favorite theme. It refers to a shepherd who has lost a sheep, one more reference to the treasured image of the Good Shepherd.
Jesus then proceeded to tell other stories. Among these stories is the magnificent parable of the Prodigal.
All these stories present the notion that God is merciful and forgiving. The plan of God is that all humans reach eternal life. Indeed, it is God’s plan that all humans find peace in this life, peace even amid great difficulties should such difficulties arise.
For weeks this summer, the Church has spoken to us about discipleship. We must follow the Lord wherever the Lord leads.
It may seem to be daunting, even foolish, or simply an option. However, there is no other way. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
God wants us to live eternally. He calls us. He also relieves us of the burden of our sins. He heals us of the affects of sin and strengthens us to live as disciples. God’s forgiveness is overflowing and unending. It is a result of God love, itself overflowing and unending.
The key to securing this mercy rests in our hands. We must determine to reform ourselves. We must turn away from sin. Throughout human history, the problem has not been that God is stingy in forgiving us and strengthening us. Rather, the problem has been that we so often follow the siren song of our own instincts, or our inadequacies, or the empty promises of the culture, and we ignore or reject God.
Turning instead to God is a lesson each person must learn, at times the hard way.
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