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Sunday Scripture: The Lord is compassionate and merciful

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

By Sister Betty J. Lillie, S.C.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14;  Psalms 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19;  1 Timothy 1:12-17;  Luke 15:1-32

The readings of today’s Mass work around the idea of joy that a person has in recovering what was lost. Luke’s long reading begins with parables about a man who found a lost sheep and a woman who retrieved a lost coin. In both cases joy ensued and is likened to joy in the repentance of a sinner.

Then follows a long parable about two sons, the younger of whom squandered his inheritance, but later returned to his father. The father stepped out of the patriarchal social pattern and allowed his younger son to make his own decision about the destination of his life. The father is generally taken as a figure of the Lord. No doubt he  knew that the boy would not succeed, and when the son returned he had compassion on him and embraced him.

We so often speak of the prodigal son, but the question arises as to whether it might be more accurate to speak of the father as recklessly extravagant in his compassion and love for the younger son. Maybe we ought rather to talk about the parable of the prodigal father.
There is no suggestion here that the elder son was slighted. The father did not give the younger son another inheritance, and the elder son would have all that belonged to his father. But the younger boy was freely returned to his place as son, not as servant; and the father rejoiced and celebrated that his younger son was alive and had been restored to him. That was not what the elder son would have expected.
If we think along the lines of the prodigal father, then maybe we can make the application of the prodigality of the father to the extravagantly incredible love of God for humankind. I wonder how many people will be surprised when they get to heaven and meet some whom they thought would have been lost.

Of course, we remember that God is just as well as loving. We also know that free will is a human faculty. However, we can also reflect that God knows our weakness, and so have confidence in His great love.
We know that Luke’s Gospel relates many incidents of God’s compassionate and forgiving love. However, he is well within the biblical tradition of God’s redeeming love. Our first reading relates the incident of Israel’s making a golden calf as their god, and of God’s thought to destroy them for that. At Moses’ intercession God revised His course of action and upheld His promises and intentions for His people.
As Exodus expresses it, God repented of the evil that He had thought to bring upon the people. He did not act on a whim, but He acted consistently with His steadfast will for them.
The Psalm prayer we use this week is called the Miserere. With the Psalmist we can pray, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love…. Restore to me the joy of thy salvation.”

Sister Betty Jane is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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