First Reading: Exodus 32.7 – 11, 13 – 14. Psalm 51. Second Reading: 1 Timothy 1. 12-17. Luke 15. 1 – 32.
In the first reading and Gospel for today there exists a bond of some kind that is unbreakable between God and the Israelites, between the writer of 1 Timothy and Christ Jesus, and between the parent and child in the parable of the Prodigal Son. Not only this but Jesus’ audience in today’s Gospel is identified by Luke as “tax collectors and sinners,” with whom as well God has an unbreakable bond of care. What if the “bond” between parent and child is more than simple affection or even responsibility, but its in fact an unbreakable genetic bon that is crowned by love? If so, might such a thing to be echoed in God’s relationship to Israel? How is it being echoed by Jesus direct address to the “tax Collectors and sinners” to whom today’s story is addressed.
God does not give up: It remains a mysterious to many as to why God does not give up on Israel, especially after continued flirtations with gold calves, abandonment of covenant, or a wholesale rejection of justice.
The reason often given is that God loves them. And while that is true, might the bond between the creator God and Israel be a bond that is actually physical.
The gospel and readings for today all point us in the direction of the mercy of God that this wonderful parable celebrates. The temptation of the Israelites in the wilderness was to forget the God of the Covenant who wanted them to go forward in faith, and to opt rather for the familiar religions which appeared to offer security and prosperity. These readings are a reminder that the story of biblical faith is not one of riches and prosperity for those who believe but one of developing a loving trust in the God who wants us to walk in his ways and who lifts us up when we fall.
Luke Chapter 15 consists of several stores about losing and finding, the lost sheep found, the lost coin found, the lost son found. In one of the most famous stories Jesus told, we find a wayward son too proud to come home, deciding to return not as son but as a servant. He sits among the pigs and finally acknowledges to himself his state of disgrace. In his defeat he comes “to his senses”. In coming to his senses he is found again. In losing his dignity he finds his purpose. This simple little phrase, “he came to his senses”, is the lynchpin of the whole story. This is the pivotal moment. From then on he is rediscovering himself. He is no longer lost because he knows where to go. He’s going home. He’s going back to the Father.
Coming to your senses is crucial for a disciple. It is the moment in the middle of a full-blown argument when you hear that quiet voice in the back of your head which says, “Actually, David, what you are doing here is wrong.” It is a cold, daunting place whre you confront your own darkness. The Church calls it an examination of conscience and most of us don’t choose t go there often.
Sometimes we pretend to go there. When a teenager says sorry and exaggerates the word while rolling their eyes, they are apologising but they haven’t come to their senses. When a child says sorry hurriedly and repeatedly to avoid a punishment, they too are not coming from the place of the senses. When a politician apologises after being caught, the apology is generally an attempt at damage limitation. These are all tactics. They are not examples of coming to your senses. Everyone knows when an apology comes from the senses, because it truly hurts in the telling.
Coming to once own senses is the beginning of hope, not the depth of despair, and while it is painful at the time, there is a better person emerging.
Paul confesses of this merciful gesture of God in his life: “ 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.” God is angry and anxious about us and our behavior as he reveals his feelings to Moses in the first reading. We do not tie his legs or hands to come and stop us from doing evils. Rather he imprisons himself by his love and respect for us. If he does anything otherwise, he would have acted against his own nature. So he waits and waits for human beings to return.
I want to highlight one thing here about God’s relationship with us. He is all powerful. He can touch the stone or desert soil. Water can be generated; he can touch the sea; it will divide and offer us a path to cross it; he can touch clay; man would be created; he can touch the bone; it will turn out to be woman; he can even touch the dead body; it will resurrect. But even if he touches warmly or forcefully any human being, it needs double miracle for making man to do the right thing on God’s behalf.
The lost coin was a precious coin to the lady in question in the gospel. The coin would have been part of her dowry which with the other nine coins would have been made into a crown she wore on her head. So all could see now that her crown was flawed and a bit of mockery and fun might follow Jesus knew when he told the story that it would reach the heart.
He would also know that people might make the connection – as every coin was essential to the crown, so we are all valued and essential to God. There are no accidents of birth, and nobody excluded from the promise of life forever with God.
The woman would go to great efforts to find the lost coin. Jesus went to great efforts to save each of us, even to crucifixion and death. We are worth the death of God, and are now the joy of God’s fife, like a child to a parent, and like the joy of friends to each other.
Even the first reading has God loving his people with heartfelt love. He is angry with them for a while but this anger is mixed with love and his love wins in the end. ,
The love of God is an active love, reaching to us in mercy and forgiveness, always building ,us up. This searching for all his people in mercy is the most characteristic quality of God, if we can put it so humanly. We are all children – on each birth and baptismal certificate, we can write a second father’s name – God!
God bless.