Is there anyone who is beyond God’s mercy? Our readings this Sunday suggest that, while we may try God’s patience, may even gravely sin, God’s mercy and forgiveness are a gift available to all who seek it and are open to it.
The grumbling people in the story from Exodus this week are not exactly pleasing God when they turn to worship an idol in Moses’ absence, and Moses will have to implore God not to let his wrath blaze up against them. Note that it’s not that God doesn’t already know God has made a powerful covenant with the people of Israel – it’s simply that Moses needs to articulate this story so that he can bring evidence of God’s mercy to the people.
Before mercy is possible, though, we need to realize that it is available to us as a means of transformation. In our Gospel text from Luke, Jesus uses three parables to demonstrate the value of one single individual, isolated by sin yet actively sought by God for reconciliation. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go looking for that one lost sheep (unthinkable!), a woman expends tremendous energy to find one lost coin (and then spends far more celebrating her find with her friends – odd!), and the prodigal father celebrates the return of his son because nothing is more important than reconnection (generous!). Notice that the son acknowledges that he has sinned against heaven and against his own father; his implicit prayer is for the recovery of past relationship, just as we must constantly pray for reconciliation as an on-going conversion process.
Psalm 51 connects the first reading and the gospel in that it is a unique penitential psalm, expressing the psalmist’s regret for past transgressions and a profound desire for forgiveness: Thoroughly wash me of my guilt, and of my sin cleanse me. A clean heart create for me, o God… Again, the psalmist is not only asking to be transformed; he is also actively open to that transformation through God’s loving kindness. In our reading from 1 Timothy, Paul acknowledges that he is who he is – a fervent apostle – because of the mercy and love of Jesus: I have been mercifully treated… Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant. And the result of this clear and on-going conversion process? Joy, great joy, as expressed in Jesus’ final parable: now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother, who was lost, has been found.
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.