Sunday, 11 September 2022
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Readings on p. 1261 and Antiphons on p. 1256 of the Daily Missal and on p 964 of the Sunday Missal.
Give peace, O Lord, to those who wait for you, that your prophets be found true. Hear the prayers of your servant, and of your people Israel.
First Reading: Exodus 32:7-11.13-14
A reading from the Book of Exodus.
In those days:
The Lord said to Moses, “Go down;
for your people,
whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt,
have corrupted themselves;
they have turned aside quickly
out of the way which I commanded them;
they have made for themselves a molten calf,
and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it,
and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’”
And the Lord said to Moses,
“I have seen these people,
and behold, it is a stiff-necked people;
now, therefore, let me alone,
that my wrath may burn hot against them
and I may consume them,
but of you, I will make a great nation.”
But Moses begged the Lord his God, and said,
“O Lord, why does your anger burn hot against your people,
whom you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt
with great power and with a mighty hand?
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants,
to whom you swore by your own self,
and did say to them,
‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven,
and all this land that I have promised
I will give to your descendants,
and they shall inherit it forever.’”
And the Lord repented of the evil
which he wished to do to his people.
The Word of the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 51:3-4.12-13.17 & 19 (R. cf. Luke 15:18)
Let us now pray the Responsorial Psalm:
R/. I will arise and go to my father.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your merciful love;
according to your great compassion,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me completely from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
Create a pure heart for me, O God;
renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence;
take not your holy spirit from me.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
My sacrifice to God, a broken spirit:
a broken and humbled heart,
O God, you will not spurn.
R/. I will arise and go to my father.
Second Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
A reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy.
Brothers and sisters:
I thank him who has given me strength for this,
Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service,
though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him;
but I received mercy
because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,
and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me
with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance,
that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
And I am the foremost of sinners;
but I received mercy for this reason,
that in me, as the foremost,
Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience
for an example to those
who were to believe in him for eternal life.
To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God,
be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.
The Word of the Lord.
Please stand for the Gospel.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
Gospel: Luke 15:1-32
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time:
The tax collectors and sinners
were all drawing near to Jesus.
And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying,
“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep,
if he has lost one of them,
does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness,
and go after the one which is lost,
until he finds it?
And when he has found it,
he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he comes home,
he calls together his friends and his neighbours,
saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me,
for I have found my sheep which was lost.’
Just so, I tell you,
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous persons
who need no repentance.
“Or what woman, having ten silver coins,
if she loses one coin,
does not light a lamp and sweep the house
and seek diligently until she finds it?
And when she has found it,
she calls together her friends and neighbours,
saying, ‘Rejoice with me,
for I have found the coin which I had lost.’
Just so, I tell you,
there is joy before the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons;
and the younger of them said to his father,
‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’
And he divided his living between them.
“Not many days later,
the younger son gathered all he had
and took his journey into a far country,
and there he squandered his property in loose living.
And when he had spent everything,
a great famine arose in that country,
and he began to be in want.
So he went and joined himself
to one of the citizens of that country,
who sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate;
and no one gave him anything.
But when he came to himself he said,
‘How many of my father’s hired servants
have bread enough and to spare,
but I perish here with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father,
and I will say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son;
treat me as one of your hired servants.”’
And he arose and came to his father.
But while he was yet at a distance,
his father saw him and had compassion,
and ran and embraced him and kissed him.
And the son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;
I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his servants,
‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him;
and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet;
and bring the fatted calf and kill it,
and let us eat and make merry;
for this, my son was dead, and is alive again;
he was lost, and is found.’
And they began to make merry.
“Now his elder son was in the field;
and as he came and drew near to the house,
he heard music and dancing.
And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant.
And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come,
and your father has killed the fatted calf
because he has received him safe and sound.’
But he was angry and refused to go in.
His father came out and entreated him,
but he answered his father,
‘Behold, these many years I have served you,
and I never disobeyed your command;
yet you never gave me a kid,
that I might make merry with my friends.
But when this son of yours came,
who has devoured your living with harlots,
you killed for him the fatted calf!’
And he said to him,
‘Son, you are always with me,
and all that is mine is yours.
It was fitting to make merry and be glad,
for this your brother was dead and is alive;
he was lost and is found.’”
The Gospel of the Lord.
How precious is your mercy, O God! The children of men seek shelter in the shadow of your wings.
HOMILE BY Fr. Matthew Charlesworth:
There are so many stories in today’s readings but I think they share the chorus of ‘Rejoice with me, for what was lost is now found’. The gospel for this Sunday includes the story of the prodigal son, and our first reading from the book of Exodus has been selected to make the point that, even if one is guilty of idolatry or worshipping an idol instead of God, even then – the Scriptures make the point that one can stray from the house of one’s father and still be taken back again, because God our Father is the one who searches out the lost and he waits expectantly f or the repentance of those who intentionally leave him. There is no sin we can commit that is so big that God cannot forgive it if we ask him. We hear in the second reading that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. God’s desire to incarnate Godself into the World was so that we might be saved. That surely is something to rejoice about.
But let us remember why Jesus spoke this parable to the Pharisees and Scribes. You’ll recall that they had exclaimed that ‘This man’, Jesus, ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them’. Jesus is accused of being welcoming and eating with those he welcomes. I think this is a key to understanding the correct focus of these Parables. You see, the one who does the welcoming and “eating with” in the parable is the Father.
I know it can be tempting when we hear this Gospel to identify with the younger son in the story. He’s broken the rules, been rebellious, abused freedom, hurt loved ones, hit the road, squandered his savings, given up on faith and religious community, gone to a different country… there are many that can, and do, identify with that. Who see parts of their life story in that description.
On the other hand, there are those who might identify with the older semi-prodigal son, who kept the rules, and lived the obligations. Many still might see themselves there.
But, as significant as those resemblances might be, I think it is the Father who bears the image of God that Jesus is trying to share with the Scribes and Pharisees, both of whom have an image of God that is judgmental, concerned with legal duties and the like, which was why they could not understand Jesus welcoming sinners and eating with them. Jesus is saying to us that we are most like God when we welcome home our children. So, let us call this Gospel story, not the Prodigal Son, but the Welcoming Father. And when we too allow those we love to come home, and be reconciled, we will be like the Father.
Henri Nouwen explains the parable this way. We all act like the younger son, we’re selfish and wasteful… we’re all sinful. But we all feel like the older son, we all feel self-righteous. But Jesus is calling us to be like the Father.
So perhaps this would be a good time to ask yourselves – what is the picture of God that you have? Perhaps it is not a picture. Perhaps it is a feeling, or a sense, or perhaps God appears to you as a sound. The more we pray, the sharper and more in focus our image of God becomes and thus the better able we are to relate with that God.
If we reflect on the Father in the parable – bearing in mind that, if you agree with me, that is what Jesus is trying to communicate here – I think we might encounter this familiar text with some new eyes. So I invite you to consider the parable not from the position of the sons but rather to learn from the Father by considering how he behaves.
In the beginning the younger son asks for his inheritance – an act that is akin to saying he wishes his father was dead to him so that he could inherit – but notice what the Father does. The Father freely gives what the son asks for. This is a double freedom – there is the freedom of the Father to freely give, and there is the freedom for the son to ask the Father. From the beginning we are shown an example of a relationship with the Father that is totally free. The Father does not try to control his son’s life. This is because we know that in any relationship that is not free, where there is manipulation, control or unfreedom – there cannot be love in that relationship. The father never stops loving the Son. When we turn away from the Father, similarly, which we are free to do – and sadly do often – the act of our turning away does not stop the Father from continuing to love us.
Now let’s look at the younger son who, perhaps while flush with money lived a high life – some translations say a debauched one. It is perhaps similar to any young life where newfound independence and boundaries are tested. Mistakes are made. It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that when the money dried up – so did his so-called new friends. And we’re told that he is reduced to working with pigs. The son of the Father who had servants and land is now doing the one thing that no good Jewish boy could ever contemplate – he is caring for swine. Not only has he left his home and family, negated his father, and squandered what the Father freely gave him – but the tragedy’s lowest point is described when the younger son denies his religion. His debauchery that led him to prostitutes resulted in him becoming a godless apostate.
After all of this, we read that ‘he comes to his senses’. This is a wonderful phrase and is perhaps the key to understanding the importance of homecoming. He comes to himself. He realizes that he has run away from everything at home, and even run away from himself. But now he comes to his senses and begins the homeward trek. He knows that he has to speak to his Father, and so he even prepares a speech, asking that he is treated as a servant, because he feels so unworthy.
Isn’t that us when we sin – we think we are so unworthy that we forget our sonship with God and reckon only to be a servant, but this is the wrong image of our relationship with God – because servants are not free, they are bound by duty – but the image of God that Jesus shares with us in the father of this prodigal son is one that refuses to accept that.
Jesus tells us that the father is watching and waiting. We’re not told for how long. We could imagine that it was from the moment the son left. The father never gave up. And while the Son was a long way off, his father saw him and we’re told was filled with compassion for him. From the distance we’re told that the Father recognizes his child we’re told he does three things, he runs to his child, he embraces his child, and he kisses his child. After seeing his son returning, there is no room in the Father’s heart for judgment, but only joy and compassion. This is a father who is filled with love for his son.
The image of the Father running to his son is described quickly, but if we think of an old man running – you can begin to get a sense of how strange that must have been for the Scribes and Pharisees listening to Jesus at that time, because old men should not suffer the indignity of having to run anywhere – yet the Father runs to the Son. And when he arrives does not lecture him or say ‘I told you so’, or that ‘you should have listened to me’. No, there is no recrimination or punishment. Only an embrace and a kiss. The Father accepts the Son as he is. He does not wait for anything else. The only sign from the Son is that he is desiring to return home – in fact the Father meets the son on the way home, he does not even wait for the Son to fully arrive.
The son then tries to begin his prepared speech and be a servant but the father interrupts him, and calls his servants and tells them to bring the best robe for his son (notice how he does not ask the son to wash first – a common practice at the time – no – his reinstatement is immediate). He also gives his son a ring. This is significant because the image of the ring represents commitment, faithfulness, it says you belong!
When we return to God, God’s love for us, and his ways of telling us that we belong will be no less dramatic. Very often in the confessional one can witness such profound reconciliations.
But notice what the son tried to do. He tried to say his speech which effectively was saying he wanted his past to determine his future. But that is not how the father wants things to be. The father does not allow the son’s past to determine his future.
We do the same, don’t we? So often we define ourselves by what we did in the past; and we define God by what we knew about God in the past – but God does not want that. He wants a living relationship in the present, that is just joyful and welcoming and compassionate for each of us.
But Jesus does not end the story there. He wants to show the Scribes and Pharisees, and ourselves, another side of the Father, in how he deals with the elder son.
In some ways the elder son is the opposite of the younger son. He is the one who has kept the rules, he’s behaved. But even though he’s been ‘good’… do you sense like I do that the elder son is unable to share in the Father’s joy because he is unable to be joyful. The elder son refers to his brothers as ‘this son of yours’. Perhaps we can imagine that the younger son had a different mother? Perhaps that is the source of some of his resentment. But let us remember the refrain from the first two parables in the Gospel: ‘Rejoice with me, for what was lost is now found’.
Pope Francis has often said that joy is the sure sign of a relationship with God. The elder son has kept the observances of society and religion, but he has failed to allow his heart to love. His heart has become hard. There’s a word in the first reading ‘stiff-necked’ which I think describes the elder son in the Gospel – he is stubborn, and it’s his stubbornness that is preventing him from celebrating. At least the younger son loved too much with the prostitutes. The younger son seemed to follow his passion wherever it led him – even though we see it led him away. With the elder son, there was such rigidity in his psyche and control over his life that he could not allow his heart to feel love and joy.
Notice what the Father does to the elder son. He pleads with him to celebrate that what was once lost is now found, that what was once dead is now brought back to life. This pleading to celebrate the life, is as much for the elder son as it was about the younger son. Can the elder son celebrate life.
In celebrating life we become grateful and gratitude for life and joy in life are the two foundational states that we as Christians should have. That is why Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees and Scribes, and why he prefaces this story by reminding us that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” And that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Can we feel joy? We have to allow ourselves to be joyful. How does that play out, concretely in our lives? What is a sign of joy and repentance? Biblically, it is sharing table with them, welcoming them. We can all ask ourselves how welcoming we are. We know in this country, with the xenophobia, that some of us are unwelcoming. But we can be unwelcoming in many ways, with LGBT persons for instance. This parable reminds us that it is only people who are grateful and joyful who can truly welcome home those who are lost, and eat with them. Who can rejoice with them. We must rediscover our joy, in order to welcome the strangers in our midst, so as to discover them as our brothers and sisters again. That surely means, if we are stubborn, we must learn to let things go.
We’re not told what happens to the elder son. Perhaps that is deliberate because all of us can be that elder son – the one who has tried to keep the rules, attend Church. We love our children, but can we welcome them as they are. Can we embrace those who are estranged to us? The father’s embrace is perhaps best shown in Jesus’ life, in his openness to sinners and tax-collectors, but also in his death, as he stretches his arms out on the cross to embrace the world. The father does not want to exclude his children. Jesus does not want to exclude anyone from the Father’s love.
Could I invite you now to consider how welcoming you are in your life? Especially to people you might notice as wanting to come home. How do you celebrate life? How do we welcome people to themselves and to their community?
In these momentous days people all around the world are mourning and celebrating the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Even though her life was quite extraordinary, she was someone who, as head of the Commonwealth in her time – a Commonwealth we are a part of – tried to draw families of nations into a global community. A community that is not defined by the wealth or power of a country, but only by the shared desire to create community, and to pursue development, democracy and peace. I like to think that her faith in God the Father helped, inspired and sustained her in this work.
May I ask you to look at your image of God, and see how it compares with that of the Father in the Gospel this Sunday. I called him a Welcoming Father at the beginning – but he’s also Prodigal. That word Prodigal comes from prodigious and is lavish and opulent, exuberant – and isn’t the Father’s generosity, mercy and extravagant welcome, ‘prodigal’ in that sense. He is lavish with his love and generous with his mercy. And notice that one of the images Jesus uses to describe God in the Gospel is as a woman. So if the image of ‘Father’ does not work for you, look at your image of God as Jesus suggested, as a Woman who cries ‘Rejoice with me’.
For the times we’ve been idolatrous, creating an idol out of progress or wealth, endangering our planet and the people on it through our consumption and indifference to the climate emergency, we ask for mercy.
For the times we have been stubborn or stiff-necked in our attitudes, refusing to welcome those different to us, we ask the Lord for mercy.
We’re called, this Sunday, to correct our image of God, so that it matches more closely the Father in the Gospel story. This is the image of God that Jesus gives us. The father who wants to put a robe, the finest clothes that can cover any shame. He wants to put a ring on you, and in so doing say ‘you belong’, ‘you are mine’, ‘you are precious to me’. The father who says come now – just as you are. He wants to welcome you and renew you.
That’s Jesus’ image of God. That’s the Father to whom he asks us to pray. Anything else is idol-worship.
Let us this morning give thanks for such a loving God, and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the grace to be as welcoming and loving to the people in our lives, as God is, and to give all of us a deep joy in our inner selves that will propel us to share God’s Good News with others. Amen.