24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Ex 32:7-11, 13-14/ 1 Tm 1:12-17
The three parables we read this Sunday are called the parables of mercy. The chapter begins by saying that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” We are all sinners and Jesus welcomes us to his dining table. The shepherd “goes after the lost one until he finds it.” Then the woman “lights a lamp and sweeps the house searching carefully until she finds it.” Then as regards the lost son, “while he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,” meaning the father was waiting and watching for his return. The Father in heaven looks for us, waits for us. We are the ones who go away from home, still the Father longs to have us back, looks out for us and is ready to take us back. That is God’s love, always forgiving, loving, waiting for our return.
Then next the word “rejoice with me” rings aloud. The longing and waiting become rejoicing, and not just himself, rather he shares that joy with others. The Father prepares food and feast for the whole household including the servants, because he says “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” It is here we have to pause and ask ourselves. Do I rejoice when a person I have known as drunkard, gambler, womanizer, arrogant, thief, swindler, rumor monger, slanderer, cheat and now he raises his hands praising God in prayer meetings? He is now also busy in medical missions and relief distribution! Is not the grace of God powerful to turn a person ninety degrees in his lifestyle? Should we not rejoice that one soul diverted from the road to hell and turned toward heaven? Let us learn to rejoice with the joy of the Lord and the saints.
The parable of the lost son teaches us how we fall but also how we can make the turn around. First we realize that we have been endowed by our heavenly Father with our share of the inheritance. It is here we have to count our blessings. Many times because we desire for more, we overlook our blessings. Then the son leaves the Father’s house, goes to a distant place and squanders his gifts and talents. Have we not done something similar? Our parents in the province send us to the big city to study, provide us with enough money for our needs. Have we faithfully used that money for the right purpose? Have we not shared in the squandering of our time, talent and treasure? Then comes a crisis. Crisis is not always a punishment, oftentimes it is a wake-up call. When the son felt the pinch of want and hunger, he started thinking back about his life in the Father’s house. Sometimes a mild stroke reminds us that we have not given care for our health. An illness convinces me that I have to give up smoking or drinking or avoid sweets, or lessen cholesterol intake, or high protein food; I am forced to fast from my favorite menus, and work for health and wellness. When I feel that some friends avoid me, it can be a warning that I have to cut off some of my arrogance, or clip off some hurting words from my tongue. Yes, a crisis is often a wake-up call, and it is for me to discern what warning the Lord is sending. After coming to my senses, I need to recognize that I have sinned against the Father: “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” Then I must be ready to make amends: “I no longer deserve to be called your son. Treat me as one of your servants.” Often we accept our fault not because we have offended the Father but because we are caught. That is not true contrition. Like the lost son, I must acknowledge my sin and be ready for the consequences. To complete the turn around from sin to virtue, I need to “get up and go back to the Father.” After recognizing my fault, I need to take action and put into practice what I have resolved.
We already noticed that the Father was waiting and watching the road. The son was still far, the Father already noticed him. “He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” What a warm welcome for a sinner. He did not allow the son to finish his rehearsed lines; he immediately showered him with love. Removed his filthy clothes of sin and clothed him with the “finest robe” of grace. Let him walk with the “sandals” of actual grace among the sons of God. “Put a ring on his finger,” restoring him to his rights as son. The ring, remember, contained the seal of the family possessions, enabling the son to make contracts, to buy and sell of family property. This was a complete restoration to the status of son. Such is God’s love, mercy and compassion; he forgives and forgets and restores us to the status of sons and daughters of God. How can we still doubt his love and forgiveness? The banquet at the table of God is the image of heaven. Sinful men and women being accepted into the table of God is made possible because God’s mercy endures forever and eternal is his merciful love. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen.